Family demands release of ‘outspoken’ Yemeni journalist

The family of a Yemeni journalist believed to have been detained by the government has demanded his release, Amnesty International has been told.

Both the family of Muhammad al-Maqalih and human rights activists believe that he is being held by National Security officials as a result of his strong opposition and criticism of the government over the armed clashes in Sa’da, in the north of the country.

The journalist, a 49-year-old father of seven children, was abducted from a street in the Yemeni capital Sana’a on 17 September by a group of men in an unmarked white van. There has been no news of him since.

Muhammad al-Maqalih’s family have staged three sit-in protests outside the President’s office over the last two weeks, which have been attended by both journalists and the general public.

“Provisionally we want the authorities to inform us of his whereabouts and allow us to see him and see how he is,” Bilal al-Maqilah, Muhammad al-Maqalih’s son told Amnesty International.

“Our ultimate demand is that he is released.”

Muhammad al-Maqalih’s family have made requests to both the Minister of the Interior and the Attorney General for information on their father’s whereabouts. Bilal told Amnesty International that the Attorney General subsequently wrote a letter to the Head of Political Security asking him to clarify Muhammad al-Maqalih’s place of detention.

“We regarded this as indication that the Attorney General is of the view that my father is detained by the Political Security,” he said.

Critics and opponents of the state in Yemen are often at risk of arrest and detention, particularly at times of political crises.

Yemen’s Sa’da region, whose inhabitants are predominantly members of Yemen’s Zaidi Sh’ia minority, has experienced several periods of conflict in recent years. There have been recurrent armed clashes between government security forces and followers of the late Zaidi Shi’ia cleric, Hussein al-Houthi, who was killed in 2004.

The latest upsurge in violence began in mid-August, when the area was placed under a virtual state of emergency and government forces mounted an escalating series of attacks.

Muhammad al-Maqalih, who was the editor of al-Ishtraki, a Web site affiliated with the opposition Socialist Party, had been reporting on the conflict.

“We believe he was detained because of the concerns he expressed in relation to sensitive issues…such as Sa’da,” Bilal al-Maqilah said.

“He was outspoken and raised his concerns in different forums. We are suffering mentally, we are in anguish about where he is, how he spends his day, whether he is subjected  to torture or humiliation. This fills us with a deep feeling of injustice.”