World Press Freedom Day – 3 May 2006

PRESS RELEASE

Vienna, 28 April 2006

IPI Condemns Harassment and Intimidation of Yemeni Journalists

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, strongly condemns the ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation against representatives of the independent press in Yemen.

Acts of intimidation targeting two journalists in recent days highlights the hostile climate of fear that the independent press in Yemen are forced to work in.

Abed Al-Mahthari, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Al Deya, remains in hiding after escaping an attack by armed assailants on 19 April. Since 2004, Al-Mahthari has been investigating and reporting on alleged arms trafficking in northern Yemen near the Saudi Arabia border. In May of 2004, after receiving two death threats, Al-Mahthari was forced to temper his reporting, but has since renewed his investigations.

In recent weeks Al-Mahthari has reported on alleged corruption of security forces and cooperation with arms dealers; the threats against him are thought to be in connection with these reports. On the evening of 19 April, Al-Mahthari received a call from an unidentified source warning that he would be killed that night.

Al-Mahthari averted the attack by having a friend drive his car away from his family home. The car was followed by two men, driving a military style vehicle with a private license plate. The assailants followed the driver of Al-Mahthari’s car, smashing down the door to the driver’s home. They then looked for Al-Mahthari at the Al Thawra publishing house. When the assailants could not find him, they returned to the area where Al-Mahthari’s car had been parked, took several items from within the car and then smashed it with weapons they had been carrying.

Although the assailants were identified by several witnesses who saw them attack the vehicle, the two have not been arrested and Al-Mahthari remains in hiding.

A campaign of intimidation is also being waged against Al Wasat editor-in-chief Jamal Amer. Al Wasat released a statement on 26 April voicing concern that Amer’s movements and activities have been closely observed since his August kidnapping. On 23 August, Amer was kidnapped by armed assailants who threatened to kill him if his newspaper continued to publish articles about corruption and abuse of power in the government.

The 26 April Al Wasat statement was released shortly after a group of individuals, led by a political security officer, visited the street of Amer’s family home, inquiring about his apartment building, the license plate number of his vehicle and the names of his children’s school.

Amer, who is currently in the United States as part of the International Visitors Program, has become the victim of a smear campaign attempting to discredit him and the critical information reported by his newspaper. Articles published this week in state-controlled publications have accused Amer of being connected to Israel’s intelligence organisation, of acting as an “agent of the West” and of working to “meet the needs of the imperialist opposition forces abroad.”

Commenting on the action being taken against Al-Mahthari and Amer, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said: “The targeting of these two editors paints a disturbing picture of the varied methods being used to silence critical voices in the Yemeni press.”

“The increase in both direct and indirect attacks on independent journalists is cause for serious concern, particularly since many of the attacks carried out in recent months have taken place with complete immunity.”

“If the Yemeni press is to be able to carry out its important watchdog role, journalists must be free to carry out their work without fear of intimidation and harassment.”

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International Press Institute (IPI)
Spiegelgasse 2/29
A-1010 Vienna
Austria
Tel:  + 431-512 90 11
Fax: + 431-512 90 14
E-mail: ipi@freemedia.at
http://www.freemedia.at

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.