SANA’A, May 1 — As the eye of the international community is focused on the Arab World in their coverage of mass uprisings in the region, the Yemeni government has carried out major crackdowns on the presence of foreign press in Yemen.
However, as deportations of journalists continue in Yemen, local journalists have been witness to the freest press environment in the country since the arrest and imprisonment of journalist Abdul-Elah Haidar Shaye.
Shaye, who the government claims has ties to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was due to be released as part of a package of concessions made to protesters by president Saleh. However, on orders of US President Barak Obama, Saleh quickly revoked that concession.
Inside Change Square in Sana’a, more than 40 anti-government independent newspapers are in continual circulation and given out to denizens of the square at no cost.
Two of Yemen’s most prominent and independent online news agencies, Marib Press and Al-Masdar Online, have been struggling with keep their websites functioning as protests rage across the country. However, in spite of the online crackdown, journalists working for these agencies have been able to operate more feely than ever in their on the ground reporting.
“The website is blocked but it seems that the people at Yemen Net don’t know how to block a website properly. We at Al-Masder haven’t been bothered too much, we do our usual work and we use all the methods to make the website available, including Facebook and Twitter,” said Editor-in-Chief of Al-Masdar Online, Sameer Jubran.
Four foreign freelance journalists and four Al-Jazeera reporters have been deported from Yemen beginning on March 14th and have continued up through this week.
On 9 April, the Yemeni government revoked Al-Jazeera’s license to operate in the country and closed their offices permanently, even melting sealing wax over the door for added dramatic effect.
“An official information source has explained that this final action came after the persistence of Al-Jazeera in implementation of a sabotage scheme aimed to inciting strife, hatred and fighting in a number of provinces of Yemen,” according to state run Saba news.
President Saleh has also argued that foreign conspirators are out to remove him from power and that Al-Jazeera and other foreign journalists and agencies are part of the conspiracy.
“Taken together, the government’s longstanding practice of violent repression and its new legalistic tactics are creating the worst climate for press freedom since the country’s unification in 1990,” CPJ’s Mohamed Abdel Dayem writes.