Yemeni activists detained in anti-government protests this weekend have told Amnesty International they fear the authorities' crackdown on freedom of expression will worsen amid growing calls for reform.
Dozens of activists were arrested and some were reportedly beaten by police during two protests in the capital Sana'a over the weekend. The first, a student demonstration in solidarity with the Tunisian public, called on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down.
Many of those detained were charged with taking part in an unlicensed protest and released today.
One of the protesters arrested, ‘Ali al-Dailami, Executive Director of the Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms, expects the climate of repression to intensify.
"We fear that 2011 will witness many human rights violations. We are only in the beginning of it but we are already seeing arrests of human rights activists and civil activists such as university students," al-Dailami told Amnesty International today.
"We fear arbitrary arrest and being taken to court on the basis of different excuses. These methods are used against us to intimidate us - to weaken our motivation and enthusiasm," added the activist, who was denied access to a lawyer when questioned in detention.
Among those arrested in Saturday's protests was prominent activist Tawakkol Karman, President of Women Journalists Without Chains.
The following day, human rights activists, journalists and students took part in a march to call for the release of Karman and others. The security forces responded by penning in the protesters, many of whom were arrested and beaten.
The Yemeni government has been resorting to repressive and illegal methods to quash dissent, with human rights activists, journalists and students targeted.
Amnesty International has called on the Yemeni authorities to stop its attacks on the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.
"The Yemeni authorities' intolerance of dissent is thrown into stark relief when they arrest civil society activists peacefully demanding change or expressing solidarity with their colleagues," said Philip Luther, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
"The authorities must allow demonstrators to take to the streets and express their political opinions in a peaceful manner."
The Yemeni government has become increasingly intolerant of the independent media and any criticism. Journalists, editors and publishers have been detained, held incommunicado, ill-treated and jailed on spurious charges after unfair trials.
Security forces have raided newspaper offices and television stations and shot at demonstrators peacefully protesting against repression of free speech. Newspapers have also been suspended and news websites blocked.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Yemen’s Constitution. However, this right is undermined by restrictive laws and practices, particularly the 1990 Press and Publications Law, and by the Specialized Press and Publications Court set up in May 2009. The court appears to be aimed at suppressing dissent by fast-tracking cases brought against government critics.