Armed security forces attack Yemeni newspaper offices

Armed security forces used tear gas and shot at the offices of the Aden-based Arabic daily al-Ayyam in Yemen on Wednesday. Two men including a security guard for al-Ayyam were killed and another security guard was injured.

The attack took place after security forces besieged the offices of al-Ayyam in an attempt to arrest Hisham Basharheel, al-Ayyam’s editor–in-chief, in connection with an incident in February 2008.

On Monday, security forces ordered Hisham Basharheel to hand himself over to the authorities in Sana’a within 48 hours. The order is apparently in connection with an incident in February 2008 when armed men shot at his home and security guards retuned fire. One of the attackers was killed and another injured. Hisham Basharheel has not been charged in connection with the case. Those suspected were charged and are being tried for the killing.  

Amnesty International is concerned that Hisham Basharheel may have been targeted solely because of al-Ayyam’s coverage of the protests in the southern part of the country.

“Amnesty International recognises the rights of governments to bring to justice anyone accused of a recognisably criminal offence. However, Amnesty International categorically opposes the targeting of anyone with the aim of suppressing freedom of the press.” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme

In another development, the editors in chief of al-Masdar, al-Nedaa, ad-Diyar, and al-Sharea were questioned on 13 May and charged with “undermining national unity”. They were reported to have been released shortly after interrogation.

The government has previously accused the newspapers of expressing views favourable to the secession of the south in their coverage of protests in the southern part of the country in April and confiscated thousands copies of the newspapers.  

Yahya Bamahfouz, editor in chief of al-Mukkla press, an Arabic news website and Nasser Khamis were arrested in Hadramout, south-eastern Yemen, earlier this week for their writing about the Southern Movement. According to reports, Yahya Bamahfouz is being detained incommunicado at Political Security in al-Mukkla.

The Yemeni government announced the formation of a press court on Monday. Amnesty International does not have full details of the court, but human rights activists in Yemen fear it to be a special court set up to target journalists and stifle press freedom further.

Amnesty International has, on a number of occasions, documented its concerns regarding restrictions on freedom of expression in Yemen, in particular the authorities’ targeting of critics of the state using the vaguely worded charge of “undermining national unity”.