CIVICUS

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Yemen

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Last updated on 10.05.2022 at 10:32

The Civic Space Developments

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Journalists and others killed and arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to freedom of expr

Journalists and others killed and arbitrarily detained for exercising their right to freedom of expr

Photojournalist Fawaz Al-Wafi found dead in his car after succumbing to numerous fatal stab wounds to his chest by unknown assailants; journalist Hala Fouad Badawi transferred from the Military Intelligence Prison to the Central Prison in Mukalla, the capital of Hadhramaut Governorate, following her arrest on 30th December 2021;

Expression

On 23rd March 2022, photojournalist Fawaz Al-Wafi was found dead in his car in the Wadi Al-Qadi area of the southwestern city of Taiz. According to local sources, he had sustained numerous fatal stab wounds to his chest by unknown assailants. Al-Wafi regularly posted his personal opinions on current affairs, policy and the daily suffering of his fellow citizens on his Facebook page. Al-Wadi’s killing is yet another sharp reminder of the extremely dangerous conditions in which journalists and other media professional work in Yemen. Many of them face death, imprisonment, harassment and torture by all parties to the current conflict for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

On 4th February 2022, Amnesty International issued an appeal calling on the UK Government to do more to secure the release of a British man who has been detained without charge in Yemen for almost five years. On 4th April 2017, Luke Symons, 29, from Cardiff, was arrested by the Houthi authorities at a security checkpoint in Taiz. According to Symons’ relatives, he was arrested and accused of spying simply because he held a UK passport. He was reportedly subjected to torture during the early days of his detention in attempts to extract a forced confession that he was in fact a British spy. Symons is currently held in solitary confinement in a prison in Sana’a and, in a recent phone call with his family, stated that his detention conditions were having a detrimental impact on his physical and mental health.

On 4th January 2022, journalist Hala Fouad Badawi was transferred from the Military Intelligence Prison to the Central Prison in Mukalla, the capital of Hadhramaut Governorate, following her arrest on 30th December 2021. Her transfer came just one day after her family organised a solidarity sit-in on the morning of 3rd January 2022, in which dozens of journalists, lawyers, civil society activists and citizens participated. The protesters issued a statement saying:

"We appeal to all people of conscience, and we single out the Attorney General and the Minister of Interior to intervene urgently to release this media freedom activist, and to resort to the rule of law."

Badawi’s arrest was almost certainly in retaliation for her peaceful online activities, including the use of her Facebook page to highlight social and political issues, such as corruption in her governorate. According to a Facebook post published by Badawi on the day of her arrest, security forces affiliated with the Military Intelligence Department in Mukalla confiscated her mobile phone and handbag before taking her to the Military Intelligence Prison.

In January 2022, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) received reliable local reports that the imprisoned actress and model, Intisar Abdulrahman Al-Hammadi, has been subjected to severe mistreatment including solitary confinement, the shaving of her head, beatings, harassment, threats and racist slurs in the Central Prison of Sana’a where she is serving a five-year sentence on spurious charges. On 8th November 2021, the West Capital Municipality Court of First Instance in Sana’a, presided over by Judge Osama Abdulaziz Al-Junaid, handed down a five-year prison sentence to Al-Hammadi after convicting her on charges including prostitution and drug use. She was among four women sentenced to prison in violation of their rights. The others are Yousra Ahmed Al-Nashiri, Mahaliah Abdulwahab Al-Baadani and Ruqaiya Ahmed Al-Sawadi. Although the initial verdict was issued against Al-Hammadi and her colleagues in November 2021, the case file has not been handed over to the defence team, nor has Judge Al-Junaid submitted his ruling in writing for the court records.

Peaceful Assembly

Yemeni citizens, political parties, organisations and trade unions have a right to the freedom of peaceful assembly if they notify the authorities 72 hours in advance.

Yemeni citizens, political parties, organisations and trade unions have a right to the freedom of peaceful assembly if they notify the authorities 72 hours in advance. Despite such a lengthy notification period being in contravention of international best practice, traditionally the people of Yemen have been able to exercise their right to peacefully assembly. However, this ability to protest has been largely wiped out. On 24th March, 2015 Houthi rebels opened fired on a protest in South Yemen killing 6 people and wounding dozens. Protesters fear arrest, violence and retaliation for mobilising, drawing international condemnation over the dire situation for their rights. However, even in this repressive context some protests are allowed to take place. In March 2016, tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered in Sana’a to show their opposition to the Saudi led bombing campaigns.

Expression

Despite constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression, journalists in Yemen face extraordinary risks.

Despite constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression, journalists in Yemen face extraordinary risks. After the 2011 revolution the number of print and electronic media increased, but these gains were short lived. The breakdown of security, political crisis and open conflict mean that independent reporters are regularly subjected to censorship, threats and violence. At least 13 journalists have been killed in Yemen since 1992. In practice, state and non-state actors control the airwaves. Arbitrary detention and abduction of critical journalists is rife meaning that self-censorship is imperative to ensure survival. Furthermore, internet freedom is increasingly controlled by the authorities, depriving freedom of expression on the net. All of these factors combine to make Yemen one of the worst performing countries for media freedom in the world.