Yemen clamps down on foreign media

March 16, 2011 - 0:0

SANAA (Agencies) -- Advocates for press freedoms called on Yemeni authorities to allow media personnel to work freely in the country after journalists were deported.

Yemeni forces stormed an apartment occupied by four Western journalists and kicked them out of the country after they covered anti-government demonstrations in the country, Al Jazeera reported.
Journalists told the Arab news network the situation in Yemen was “quite dire.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York media advocacy group, said local journalists told of pro-government supporters threatening to burn media offices in Sanaa.
Reporters Without Borders added that media pressure in Yemen was a sign the situation was getting out of hand.
“The arrests and deportation of foreign journalists are a very worrying sign of nervousness on the part of the authorities,” the group said in a statement.
According to CNN, Yemeni police came to a house the four journalists shared in Sanaa and took them to an immigration office, where they were told they would be deported, according to two of the journalists, Oliver Holmes, a British freelancer, and Haley Sweetland Edwards, an American freelance journalist.
The other journalists ordered deported were Portia Walker, another British freelancer, and Joshua Maricich, an American writer and photographer, Holmes and Edwards said.
“On Monday morning, police came to the house. Some of them had guns,” Edwards said. “They said, 'Get dressed quickly. We're going.'“
After several hours in a government immigration office, she said, the four were told without explanation that they would be deported.
The Yemeni government has not commented on the case.
Yemen has been wracked by weeks of unrest, with thousands protesting the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
High unemployment has fueled much of the anger among a growing young population steeped in poverty. The protesters also cite government corruption and a lack of political freedom.
The president has said he will not run for another term in the next round of elections. He also has pledged to bring a new constitution to a vote by the end of the year and transfer government power to an elected parliamentary system.
One of the deported journalists, Edwards, said the deportations worried her because relatively few Western reporters cover Yemen.
“We all did our best to incorporate the government perspective in our reporting whenever possible -- even going to pro-government and anti-government demonstrations,” she said.
Holmes said he is sure the authorities deported them because of their reporting on recent anti-government protests.
“I've been in Yemen quite some time now,” he said. “I've been threatened with deportation, but nothing like this has ever happened.”
Human Rights Watch has accused Yemen's government of harassing, attacking, or allowing attacks on 31 journalists to stop them from reporting on the protests.
“Beating up journalists is a blatant attempt by the authorities to prevent the Yemeni people and the world from witnessing a critical moment in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the group's Middle East and North Africa division.
Photo: Yemenis protest against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on Monday, March 14. (Getty Images)