According to the Reporters Without Borders tally, at least 11 journalists are currently being held hostage by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are responsible for most of the threats and acts of violence against journalists in an all-out civil war with a death toll from the past four months now exceeding 4,000.
Nine of the 11 journalists were abducted at the same time on 9 June from a Sanaa hotel that was being attacked by Houthis. Most of them work for a news outlet that supports the rival Sunni party Al-Islah, which is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not known where the 11 are being held or what has happened to them. “Violence against journalists by all parties to the conflict in Yemen has increased since the Houthi advance on the capital,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk. “The systematic abduction of journalists critical of the Houthis is indicative of this rebel group’s determination to tighten its hold on power and silence all opposition. The parties to this conflict – coalition forces, Houthi rebels and Al-Qaeda militants – will be held responsible for their acts of violence against journalists, which are war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions.” The swift Houthi advance and seizure of the capital in September 2014 has led to many violations of freedom of information. Many journalists have been threatened. Journalists have been kidnapped and then released. Media outlets have been ransacked or bombarded and then closed. Journalists’ equipment has been seized. Yemen is split into supporters and opponents of the Houthis, who practice the Zaidi version of Shi’a Islam. The Houthi rebels harass reporters who criticize them or who cover anti-Houthi events or demonstrations. Many journalists have opted to flee the capital. The Houthi rebels are not the media’s only predators. In May, air strikes by the Saudi-led Arab coalition targeted a building where two journalists – Abdallah Qabel of Yemen Youth TV and Belqees TV and Youssef Al-Aizari of Suhail TV – were being held by Houthis. The bombardment killed them on the spot. In April, an air strike killed Mohamed Rajah Chamsane, a journalist with Al-Yemen Al-Youm TV, and three other employees of the station. In all, at least seven journalists have been killed in Yemen since the start of the year, four of them in connection with their work. Three other media workers have also been killed. Reporters Without Borders is extremely worried about the deterioration in the safety of journalists and its impact on Yemen’s media, especially as news and information was already hard to come by in a country that is deprived of electricity and Internet most of the time. Yemeni journalists and foreign reporters in Yemen are also having the utmost difficulty in providing the outside world with coverage of what is happening inside the country. Yemen is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.