Southern separatists storm Yemeni Journalists Syndicate’s headquarters

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate’s expulsion from its headquarters in the southern city of Aden on 28 February by gunmen affiliated to the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), who installed a new organisation called the Southern Media and Journalists’ Syndicate. The building must be restored to the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate at once, RSF says.

When the gunmen arrived at the building late on the night of 28 February, they expelled the night guards and all other persons present. It is now occupied by new personnel loyal to the STC, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates and wields a great deal of influence within the Aden-based Yemeni government that is recognised by the international community.

“The takeover of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate’s headquarters at gunpoint has dealt a serious blow to an organisation for the defence of journalists’ rights and creates a climate of fear for media workers,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Guns have no place in a journalists’ union. We call on the Southern Transitional Council to vacate the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate’s headquarters at once and to refrain from any further attacks on organisations that defend journalists or freedom of expression.”

After taking control of the building, members of the Southern Media and Journalists’ Syndicate took down the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate sign and replaced with a sign bearing the name of their own organisation. RSF has learned that the president of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate was told he would be killed if he did not leave.

This forcible takeover by the STC has elicited outrage from journalists. The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate issued two separate statements condemning the way armed forces invaded and occupied their premises, and the way that the union’s administration was “terrorised” and “placed under control by military force in order to impose agendas that have nothing to do with the profession of journalism.”

The STC has denied using armed force to take over the building. In a statement sent to RSF, the president of the newly created Southern Media and Journalists’ Syndicate, Aidarous Abdullah Bahshwan, described the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate as an “illegitimate entity” that had “exceeded its legal mandate,” “violated labour union laws” and failed in its missions.

The STC issued a statement saying: “The building was handed over to us legally, without any violence or interference from the security forces. It is a government building that is owned by the state, and we have been allowed to recover it from the local authorities.” And, when reached by telephone, an STC representative also denied that any threats were made against the president of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals, a member of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate nonetheless told RSF that the building did belong to his organisation.

The political backdrop to this armed takeover is the civil war that has been under way in Yemen since 2015. Its various factions include the Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels, the official government, which is backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and the STC, a separatist group that proclaimed its autonomy in 2020 and is supported by the United Arab Emirates.

Journalists have paid a high price in this war. They are subjected to violence and abuses by the various armed groups in the field, they are liable to be abducted or killed and, when detained, they are mistreated and tortured.

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