The IFJ has called on the Yemeni government to “accept its responsibility” as the UN’s leading human rights body condemned the huge toll of deaths, kidnappings and repression faced by the country’s journalists.
The call came at a high level meeting between the IFJ, the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS), human rights officials and Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al Iryani in Geneva, in advance of Friday’s official debate of the report on an escalating human rights crisis in Yemen.
The strongly worded report produced by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states that “since the beginning of the conflict, an effective campaign of repression has been waged by both the de facto authorities in Sana’a and the Government against journalists, activists and other civil society members through restrictions on freedom of expression, intimidation, arbitrary and illegal detentions, enforced disappearances and killings.
“Since 2015, the de facto authorities in Sana’a have blocked 21 news websites, censored seven television channels and banned 18 newspapers from publication…pro-government forces have censored seven television channels and raided seven organizations. As a consequence of this repression, few avenues remain for free expression and a chilling effect has led to self-censorship. Many activists have left the country for fear of reprisals.
“Individual journalists and activists have borne the brunt of this repression, with 74 arbitrarily or illegally detained by all parties. As of June 2017, at least 16 journalists remained detained, all by the de facto authorities. In one notable case, nine journalists taken by the de facto authorities in a single raid on 9 June 2015 in Sana’a remain in custody. The journalists were held for months incommunicado, and have been denied family visits at various stages as they have been transferred between different facilities. OHCHR is concerned that these and other detainees face a serious risk of torture or ill-treatment”.
Jim Boumelha, the IFJ representative at the meeting said: “Since this conflict started, journalists have been accused by all the warring parties of affiliating with rival parties and serving their interests. As a result, they face threats of being killed and tortured on a daily basis. We hear frequent accounts of how media are regularly targeted by both sides, becoming victims of both the indiscriminate bombings by the Saudi-led coalition and armed groups on the grounds including sniper attacks and kidnapping.
“Journalists are forced to operate without adequate safety training, protective equipment, or insurance. And when media houses were taken by the rebels, journalists were faced with a terrible dilemma – either to leave or to follow their editorial line in an increasingly precarious and hostile atmosphere for independent reporters.
“And it is not only them but their families who have suffered – as hundreds were forced out from their jobs, this cut the income for their families. And several hundreds too have had to flee the country, forced from their homes in search of safety for their families”.
Jim Boumelha also paid tribute to the work of the YJS in calling for international solidarity and continuing to protest attacks on journalists at every opportunity.
He said: “The war in Yemen has been described as the war that international media has forgotten. But the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate made sure their colleagues all over the world know the truth. The OHCHR report could not have come at a better time as it vindicates fully the monitoring effort by our colleagues and confirms everything they have reported about this conflict. These are hard-hitting findings and we will be demanding that every side account for their actions.
“The IFJ welcomes that representatives of the government today recognise their obligation to enable journalists to work safely and without fear of repression or censorship, which is essential if the world is to know more about this tragedy that has hit the people of Yemen.
“They are signatories to various international instruments which compel Yemen and members of the coalition to implement measures to address the risks to journalists, and they are legally bound to respect and protect the human rights of those within their jurisdiction. The High Commissioner reiterates in his report his call to the parties to adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law and international human rights”.
The IFJ repeatedly denounces the Houthis’ targeting of journalists and media houses. The federation recalls their leader Adul- Malik al-Houthi’s statement that journalists were “traitors” and his encouragement to his militia to kill journalists, and the regular holding of journalists incommunicado or pushing them out of the country.
The IFJ has helped set up a Safety Plan of Action for Yemen Media. It calls for the warring sides to denounce targeted attacks against journalists, and to ensure that all incidents of violence against journalists are fully investigated, ensure all military and security personnel are fully trained on the rights of journalists in a conflict situation and on their responsibilities to protect and facilitate the work of media, and for the release of all detained journalists unharmed.
It also calls on media management to ensure the security of their staff.
Jim Boumelha said: “It is crucial that the authorities as well as media must co-operate with the journalists’ syndicate to build bridges, and ensure the rights and safety of journalists and support the provision of a comprehensive safety programme for journalists across the country. Only then would we be able to encourage those media that seeks solutions to the violence through honest reporting of all sides and we can insist on promoting the highest standards of journalism.
We hope and believe that the OHCHR report and the ensuing debate can mark a new starting point in the government accepting its responsibility in ensuring the safety and protection of journalists, and committing themselves to a long-term post-conflict programme to build an independent, democratic, public service media in Yemen”.
Muammar Al Iryani, Minister of Information of the Republic of Yemen, said: “Since the onset of multipartism and the re-unification of Yemen in 1990, never have so many journalists been targeted as they are today at the hands of the Houthis. We have been calling for kidnapped journalists to be released from Houthis jails and we are ready to cooperate with any international organisations to stop the blood bath in Yemen.”
Nabil Alosaidi, representative of the YJS in Geneva, said:
“Working with the IFJ has provided a lifeline for Yemeni journalists. We hope we will continue to work jointly to reinforce our safety programme which is crucial for the survival of journalists relentlessly under attack.”
At least 5,000 civilians, including 1,120 children, have been killed and more than 8,500 wounded in the conflict, according to the UN Human Rights Office, which has monitored conditions in Yemen since war broke out in March 2015. In its latest report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in September, the UN Human Rights Office presents findings that document mounting human rights violations during the period between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.
“The human rights situation in Yemen has unfortunately continued to deteriorate as a result of the conflict,” said Elobaid Elobaid, Head of the UN Human Rights Office in Yemen. “Civilian casualties have increased and human rights violations have persisted, including attacks on education and health facilities as well as the recruitment of children as soldiers. There is an ongoing crackdown of freedom of expression and a host of violations of economic, social and cultural rights.”
“I have repeatedly called on the international community to take action – to set up an independent, international investigation into the allegations of very serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “An international investigation would go a long way in putting on notice the parties to the conflict that the international community is watching and determined to hold to account perpetrators of violations and abuses.”