Despite the civil war, closures and Houthi-led raids, a few non-governmental organizations are still working in Yemen. One of them is the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, affiliated to the Nation Union of Journalists. Most recently the organization announced that 38 of its members have been killed in Yemen since 2014. In a statement issued for Journalists’ Day the Syndicate said that “We regret that on this occasion in 2020 there are 16 of our members suffering in prisons and some who have received oppressive sentences from the Houthis in Sanaa.” The organization fights to defend the rights of journalists and promote freedom of expression. All Yemeni journalists can become a member who meets the conditions. According to the latest data it listed over 1,400 members.
The Syndicate has 15 permanent employees in its Sana’a headquarters and a similar number in its five other branches. It was established with the help of a government funding in 1999 and was very effective in upholding journalists’ rights during the anti-Saleh protests of 2011. It provides journalists with a range of services and facilities, including discounts on medical services and travel. It charges membership fees and continued to receive government funding through the Ministry of Finance until the beginning of the war in 2015.
The syndicate has a “freedom committee” that is on call to help journalists in trouble 24 hours a day and provides legal help if needed and promotes multiple activities, including safety trainings with international organisations (CPJ, IFJ, Media Support) and advocacy activities to save the life of colleagues in danger. Recently, before closing, the syndicate promoted a media-editor dialogue to strengthen professional solidarity between journalists and contrast incitement and hate speech against them.
Since the beginning of the civil war OHCHR documented 357 human rights violations and abuses against journalists, including 28 killings, two enforced disappearances, one abduction, 45 physical assaults; and 184 arbitrary arrests and detentions.
Acute lack of gasoline, electricity and printing paper made also publishing and distribution increasingly difficult. Online media have also been targeted, with some websites closed down permanently. All media workers experienced restrictions on their freedom of movement. International journalists have virtually been banned from entering the country. Even at that time, external coverage of developments in Yemen was sparse. The media as a whole in Yemen started to face a very serious crisis. They were under severe pressure both physically and financially. While trying to navigate the dangerous political environment, journalists were and still are also struggling to survive on increasingly meagre salaries. Many of the beleaguered outlets, some of which have had to relocate because of direct attacks against their premises, will be forced to completely rethink or even close down their operations.
In addition, the war started in 2015 forced a lot of independent media to close. Several persecutions against journalists from all sides of the fighting have been reported. A large number of journalists, activists and thinkers, particularly in the North and in the ex capital Sana'a are in jail or detained in secret locations by the rebels of the North, according to a report by CPJ. In 2015, 15 journalists were killed in the country: Awab al-Zubiry; Mubarak al-Abadi from Nabaa media Foundation; freelance Mohammed Ghalib al-Majidi; Ahmed al-Shaibani from Yemen News; Hashim al-Hamran from al-Masirah TV; freelance Almigdad Mojalli; Bilal Sharaf al-Deen from al Masirah TV; Abdullah Qabil from Yemen Youth TV; Youssef al-Ayzari from Suhai TV; Mohamed Shamsan from Yemen Today; Khaled al-Washli from al-Masirah TV; freelance Luke Somers (the only American listed); Hassan al-Wadhaf from Arabic Media Agency; Jamal al-Sharabi from Al-Masdar; Muhammad al-Rabou’e from Al-Qahira. For all of these deceased journalists the motives of the incidents are confirmed. Topics covered by the victims were: 7 percent corruption, 20 percent culture, 33 percent human rights, 80 percent politics, 73 percent war. There are still two journalists for whom the reasons of death are not confirmed: freelance Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, killed in Sana'a in March 2015 and Abdul Rahman Hamid al-Din, from Sana'a Radio, killed in the capital in August 2015. Generally speaking, airstrikes, shelling and street-by-street urban combat put journalists in Yemen at risk of death and injury.
Abduction is another common practise against journalists in Yemen. Starting from 9 June 2014 when Hisham al-Yousifi was arrested by pro-Houthis forces along with eight other journalists and activists who were all taken from the same hotel in Sana'a. As of today no one knows exactly where they are held or if they face any charges. These arrests were the most prominent example of how journalists and activists in Yemen are being detained in record numbers by the rebel Ansar Allah movement (Houthis) and their allies. Other journalists’ organisations in the country are: Yemeni Journalists Against Corruption, a non-profit organisation also known as Yemen JAC, that promotes good governance and fights against corruption; the Yemeni Union to Protect Journalists (RAPITA), set up in 2002 to defend journalists and monitor press freedom; Women Journalists without chains, set up to defend women journalists by the Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman, which campaigns for freedom of speech and publishes a number of books, including the well known Press in Yemen, Margins and Violations; The media women forum, a Sana’a-based NGO founded in 2004, which promotes balanced media coverage and provides media training.
Although according to the Committee to Protect Journalists data the violation against journalists has decreased in the last years, the number of journalists killed since 2014 range from 18 (CPJ) till 35. The divergence of numbers can root in the disappearances, unknown location of the detention camps, and unconfirmed deaths.