Authorities continue to harass media, seizing broadcast equipment from Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera
Published on 15 March 2010
Reporters Without Borders deplores the Yemeni authorities’ seizure of broadcast equipment from the Sanaa bureaux of the pan-Arab satellite TV stations Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera on 11 March on the grounds that their coverage of unrest in the south of the country was not objective.
“Confiscating equipment in this manner is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government is clearly stepping up its attempts to impose a news blackout on its military operations, especially in the south. It wants to get rid of potential witnesses. We urge the authorities to return the equipment and to stop harassing and intimidating the media.”
The raids on the premises of Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera were carried out by police and political security agents on the evening of 11 March without warning. The equipment seized included mobile broadcasting units.
Al Arabiya representatives insisted that the confiscated equipment had been brought into Yemen legally in 2006 “on the president’s go-ahead.” Al Arabiya bureau chief Mahmoud Munassar called the seizure “arbitrary.”
An Al Jazeera representative described the seizure as part of the “intimidation campaign” that the authorities are waging against the station (http://www.rsf.org/Al-Jazeera-journalists-harassed.html).
The authorities maintain that the seizure was legal inasmuch as the equipment had not been “declared.” An information ministry spokesman also said the equipment “should not serve to provoke trouble and amplify events in such a way as to harm public order.” He also accused Al Jazeera of using archive footage to illustrate recent incidents. “That constitutes encouragement of sabotage and separatism,” he said.
The official news agency Saba quoted a member of the ruling party as urging Al Jazeera to cover events in Yemen in an “objective” and “credible” manner or else the government “may be forced to close Al Jazeera’s bureau and not allow its correspondents to work in Yemen.”
During a demonstration organised in support of the two TV stations in Sanaa on 13 March, opposition parliamentarian Abdel Razeq Al-Hajari announced that he would ask parliament to question information minister Hassan Al-Lawzi about the confiscation. Several hundred journalists, parliamentarians and civil society representatives took part in the protest.
Secessionist demands in southern Yemen have resulted in clashes with the army. The south was independent until 1990 and many of its inhabitants feel they have been discriminated against and left behind by economic development. Tension in the south has increased since the government signed a ceasefire on 11 February with the Zaidi rebels in the north.