State-run newspapers under siege

Published on 6 February 2012 in News
Emad Al-Saqqaf (author)

Emad Al-Saqqaf

Protesting journalists of Al-Jomhoriya Newspaper accused pro-regime officials of supporting armed men to storm the headquarters of the paper in Taiz.

Protesting journalists of Al-Jomhoriya Newspaper accused pro-regime officials of supporting armed men to storm the headquarters of the paper in Taiz.

TAIZ – Hundreds of armed men loyal to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh surrounded state-backed Al-Thawra and Al-Jomhoriya newspapers, angry at recent changes in the way the papers report the news.

Al-Jomhoriya newspaper in Taiz was surrounded on Friday and Saturday, while Sana’a’s Al-Thawra remains under siege.

After Yemen’s unity government was formed around two months ago, news coverage by state-run media became clearly more objective, angering Saleh’s supporters.

But when Al-Thawra newspaper deleted Saleh’s picture from its front page last Wednesday, a group of armed men backed by security officials and a number of pro-regime journalists encircled the newspaper’s office, forcing staff to print an issue with Saleh’s picture.

The same thing happened at Al-Jomhoriya in Taiz as a group of armed men seized the newspaper’s office and stopped the newspaper from being printed.

«The paper has turned into a mouthpiece for the Islah Party and they are not covering the news of the legal president Saleh,» one of the armed men told the Yemen Times, who also denounced Sameer Al-Yousufi, Al-Jomhoriya’s editor-in-chief, “as he quit his post and sided with the opposition». 

Al-Yousufi stepped down from the paper in March last year in protest against the government’s violent reaction to Yemen’s popular protests. He was reinstated in December.

Abdul-Razzaq Al-Buraihi, a journalist at Al-Jomhoriya newspaper, told the Yemen Times that the armed men were backed by Saleh’s General People’s Congress and are claiming their action is the result of a decline in stories about the now honorary president.

However, Al-Jomhoria’s journalists erected a large tent to work in and make sure the paper was printed. Hamoud Al-Soufi, governor of Taiz, condemned the siege, describing it as “uncivilized”.

While he called the men’s demands that the papers cover more news of Saleh illegal and unrealistic, Al-Soufi described the incident as “a natural result of this unstable phase”. He also blamed Al-Jomhoria’s journalists for not covering Saleh’s news and not addressing him as a legal president.

Abdullah Al-Asali, a journalist at Al-Jomhoria, accused pro-regime officials of supporting the armed men, adding that a number of military police cars were present alongside the armed men.

Zakaria Al-Kamali, head of the Rights and Freedoms Committee at Yemen’s Journalist’s Syndicate in Taiz, told the Yemen Times that the new independent and balanced performance of the state-run media had upset the ruling party and its officials.

«Those parties are trying to cause trouble to hinder the upcoming early presidential elections,» he said.

Al-Kamali said what’s happening to those media means is a dangerous step that may threaten the freedom of journalism, calling for the government and Ministry of Interior to arrest those who involved in these actions and prosecute them.