The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) says it is worried about censorship of news websites in the wake of clashes in the northern province of Sa'ada between government forces and Shia rebels.
The country’s Ministry of Telecommunications has blocked two news websites that it said failed to follow instructions, YJS Secretary-General Marwan Dammaj told IRIN. “The Ministry of Information has issued instructions to journalists and editors not to cover the war in Sa'ada in a way that runs counter to the official media’s reporting," Dammaj said.
So far the fighting in Sa’ada has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians and soldiers and the displacement of 30,000-35,000 people, aid workers say.
According to Dammaj, www.al-shoura.net and www.aleshteraki.net, two opposition news websites, have been blocked by the Ministry of Telecommunications because they reported on the humanitarian catastrophe and fighting in Sa'ada.
Aleshteraki.net of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) was blocked on 16 May, and al-shoura.net was blocked late February after a flare-up in the Sa’ada clashes.
"These procedures are illegal and the websites were blocked without being taken to court. The government blocked the websites without regard for the law," he said.
“The real humanitarian situation”
The deputy chairman of the YSP Information Office, Mohammed al-Maqaleh, said they wanted to expose the real humanitarian situation in Sa'ada, although this kind of reporting “enrages the government”.
|It is our right, and the people's right to know what is happening in Sa'ada.|
"We demand that the Ministry of Telecommunication stop blocking the website. It is our right, and the people's right to know what is happening in Sa'ada," al-Maqaleh told IRIN.
At present, the country depends to a large degree on independent local media reports about what is happening in Sa’ada.
Reporters Without Borders
In early March, the Paris-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Reporters Without Borders, which advocates press freedom, said it was concerned about growing political internet censorship in Yemen after the authorities blocked access to the opposition website www.al-shora.net on 24 February.
"The government is increasingly resorting to the filtering of online content to prevent opposition political currents from disseminating their ideas. As most newspapers and all the radio and TV stations are already controlled by the authorities, censuring the internet has also become its priority," the NGO said.
Reporters Without Borders placed Yemen 149 out of 168 countries in its 2006 annual Worldwide press freedom index.
Journalists under increasing pressure
The Yemeni Centre for Training and Protecting Journalists' Freedoms (CTPJF), a local NGO, said in its annual report in early May that there had been over 500 violations against journalists in the country over the past four years. These ranged from detentions, assaults, threats, and abductions, to trials of journalists.
"Press rights and freedoms in Yemen are going through a dangerous stage as violations against journalists increase," the report said. "Not only has the Ministry of Information targeted journalists and press freedom, but the authorities… are involved directly in this unfair battle."
|Yemen's Ministry of Telecommunications blocked www.al-shoura.net in late February|
In 2006, the report noted 200 violations against journalists, 47 of which were detentions.
"The year 2006 saw a dreadful deterioration in the freedom of press and expression, which made it a miserable year in the history of democracy and the Yemeni press," the report added.
Eighty-five violations were recorded in 2003, and 120 in 2004, while in 2005 the number increased to 176, according to the report.
The Ministry of Telecommunication also blocked and censored several websites during the presidential and local elections in September 2006.
Journalists still targetted despite draft law
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions