CIVICUS

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Yemen

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Last updated on 01.08.2018 at 15:01

Yemen-Overview

People in Yemen have endured a turbulent time following the 2011 revolution. As the political crisis between Shia Houthi rebels and the government intensified to all out conflict in 2015, the impact on civilians has been catastrophic.

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Human rights defenders at risk as war continues in Yemen

Human rights defenders at risk as war continues in Yemen

HRDs detained while journalists are killed and kidnapped.

Association

On 18th June 2018, prominent Yemeni human rights defenders Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights were arbitrarily arrested and detained by authorities at Seiyun airport as they were prepared to travel to an event at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Oslo, Norway. No reason for their arrest was communicated to them by the authorities during the 12 hours that they were detained, only that the order to detain them had been received from the Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition.

Such violations of basic rights have become commonplace in Yemen, as the country prepares for its third review under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place in 2019. Ahead of the review, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS and Front Line Defenders highlighted the complete lack of protection for human rights defenders and journalists in Yemen. According to their joint submission to the UPR, journalists and human rights defenders are regularly abducted, kidnapped and detained in undisclosed locations and often subjected to smear campaigns, threats and judicial persecution. None of the 316 recommendations issued in Yemen’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review have been implemented.

In a separate development, a new documentary by Yemeni human rights organisation Mwatana documents the story of 5 civilians who have been subject to arbitrary detention and forcibly disappeared in the conflict in Yemen.

Expression

Conditions for journalists in Yemen remain grave and dangerous. Yemeni journalist Mazen Al-Shaabi, a reporter for United Arab Emirates-funded Sharjah TV was attacked on 23rd July 2018 according to the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) and local news reports. Al-Shaabi was attacked by unknown assailants while driving home to Aden and received minor injuries to his head when he hit the windshield. Four months ago, his car had also been shot at by unknown gunmen, although he was not in the car. Al-Shaabi has been covering the UAE’s humanitarian role in Yemen.

CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said:

"The brazen attack on Mazen al-Shaabi highlights the dangers journalists in Yemen face, no matter where they are working or for whom….authorities in Aden should thoroughly investigate the attack on al-Shaabi and ensure the safety of journalists working in areas under their control."

In a separate incident, according to a statement released by RSF on 18th June 2018, Yemeni journalist Anwar Al-Rakan died on 2nd June 2018 days after he was released from a Houthi prison. He had been held for about a year and subjected to mistreatment. Al-Rakan’s family had been unaware that he had been detained, and for this reason, no active campaign for his release had been undertaken.

It has been reported that the Houthi militia continue to hold at least 10 journalists, and one citizen journalist captive, although it is feared that they could be holding more as no information is shared by the militia.

Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk said:

“There is no justification for arbitrarily detaining and torturing journalists. The Houthis allowed Anwar al Rakan to become fatally ill in detention without providing him with the medical attention he needed and without alerting his family in time. The journalists they are holding, some since 2015, must be freed at once. All of the parties to the war in Yemen, whether the Houthis, Al Qaeda or the Arab coalition, must stop intimidating, torturing or abducting the journalists they dislike.”

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the unabating war in Yemen has had dire effects on the work and lives of journalists and HRDs. Yemen, which is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis in history, has been ranked 167th out of 180th in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Association

The Yemeni constitution announced in January 2015 guarantees the freedom to form associations and civil society organisations.

The Yemeni constitution announced in January 2015 guarantees the freedom to form associations and civil society organisations. CSOs are obliged to register with the government and should notify authorities if receiving foreign funds. While independent trade unions do exist, their right to collective bargaining can be vetoed. Homosexuality is punishable by death in Yemen and members of the LGBTI community risk persecution from authorities and religious extremist groups; making the work of LGBTI organisations impossible. Since Houthi groups have taken control of government, new registrations of civil society have become non-existent. Only groups affiliated to the rebels are allowed to operate and independent groups working on working on human rights issues are particularly susceptible to attack. The Houthi rebels have orchestrated the systematic dissolution of CSOs operating in areas under their control. In 2015 alone, Amnesty International documented at least 27 NGOs forced out of operation in Sana’a. Rebel groups have targeted civic organisations for being “foreign agents”, implemented travel bans, raided NGO offices, as well as harassed, intimidated and surveiled NGO employees and activists.

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.