Yemen: prosecution of journalists must end

In this blog post I will explain and examine how the mistreatment of journalists within Yemen has contributed to the countries humanitarian crisis and why this must change. I will do this by means of analyzing case studies via Amnesty International-an international non-governmental organization focused on human rights.

Amnesty International as of August 18, 2022 has cited over the past seven months, “three journalists for publishing content that was critical of officials and public institutions” have been arrested by the internationally recognized government (IRG) of Yemen. Another fourth journalist was brought under a criminal investigation over a Facebook post in which he was critical of oil sale prices. In my opinion, it is incredibly unreasonable for Journalists to be treated like criminals simply for being critical of government institutions and employees.  In this instance, these journalists were simply doing their job and their speech should be protected under international human rights law. The internationally recognized government of Yemen has a duty to respect respect this and should drop all charges against them.

In the words of Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Diana Semaan,“Targeting journalists and activists for exercising their right to freedom of expression has a chilling effect on society. Its real aim is to silence dissent and deter critical voices.”

Diana Semaan joined Amnesty International in November 2014. Prior to joining Amnesty, she worked as a research assistant covering Syria and Lebanon at Human Rights Watch. She received her Master’s degree in International Political Economy from the University of Warwick.

In the first half of 2022, the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate recorded 11 cases of attacks, including threats and incitement of violence, against journalists and media outlets, nine cases of detention, and six cases of prosecution and summoning by parties to the conflict. The Syndicate report found that the IRG was responsible for committing 23 of these violations, while the Houthi de facto authorities were responsible for 16. What this tells me is that it is not just one side of the Yemeni conflict that is to blame. Both the standing IRG government and the Houthi opposition are at fault for violating international human rights laws regarding journalists.

In Yemen, “insulting” a public employee, can result in years on time in jail. Bad mouthing the Yemeni Military and disturbing public order can be met with similar punishments.

Simply put, the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not enough to justify the imposition of penalties. In my opinion, unless it constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. That is what in the case on the United States makes an event like a political rally different than the January, 6th insurrection.

Case Studies

In one case, a journalist in 2019 was summoned with “insulting” public and military officials after he published several Facebook posts in which he criticized the military authorities in the Yemeni city of Taiz for their “thug-like” behavior and their poor treatment of journalists. On 17 May 2022, he was found guilty and sentenced to a one-year prison term.

Yemeni journalist Adel al-Hasani with his two young sons. He was detained at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Aden last September.
One example of A Journalist being wrongfully jailed is Yemeni journalist Adel al-Hasani pictured with his two young sons. He was detained at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Aden last September. He worked at several notable news networks including CNN.

Another journalist was sentenced on 21 June 2022 by the Public Funds Courts to a three-month prison term for “insulting a public employee” and “threatening to publish private secrets”, after he published an article that was critical of the academic standing of a public university in the city of Hadramout. How are proper aid and support services supposed to get into a country like Yemen if the world cannot properly understand the severity of the situation, due to lack of reporting?

Self Censorship also poses a very real threat to Yemen. As one Journalist stated “security agents were regularly stationed outside my house and office in response to speaking out against the governor in 2019.” Furthermore, neither the journalist nor his lawyer have been able to access the case file containing the evidence brought against him. This is a clear and egregious violation to ones right to a fair trial.

Two other journalists told Amnesty International they had stopped publishing critical views of the authorities out of fear of persecution. One of them said: “I have resorted to silence and stopped journalism temporarily, but it is a frustrating, bitter and humiliating fate.” Personally, this is completely understandable, while unfortunate. It is not only unsafe, but this shows how disheartening being a Journalist in Yemen is and that is really unfortunate.

To conclude, “The IRG must also bring national legislation curtailing the right to freedom of expression into line with the international standards,” said Diana Semaan. I wholeheartedly agree. Withholding to do so will only cause the already tragic humanitarian crisis is Yemen to get worse.

Source-Yemen: Government must stop prosecution and harassment of journalists – Amnesty International

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