Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I wish the world can know the matter of Yemeni journos is a matter that reflects the suffering Yemeni nation as a whole endures. And It's a justice matter!

I’m so grateful for all the love and congratulating words I’ve been receiving today. My mobile feels going to explode with the messages, notifications and calls. I’m in awe with all your love. Thank you! Thank you! And thank you to Sherif and everyone at the Committee to Protect Journalists! I’m humbled to get noticed by such an organisation that I respect so much, let alone to get awarded by you. CPJ is an organisation I grew up learning so much about press freedom from and I’m humbled to get this recognition for my humble and imperfect work.

The award goes not only for me but also for all Yemeni journalists/writers who face massive dangers just for the sake of speaking up, reporting and writing. My story and struggle in doing something I love to do: journalism, is a story of a whole nation and particularly a story of many Yemeni journalists. And I cherish each journalist’s struggle.

During my college years at Sana'a University in Sana’a, one time, my teacher asked me about what do I want to be after I graduate. I said: I want to become a writer. He replied: you'll die poor & unread - and nobody will know about you. How much was he wrong, right?

As a female, you are expected not to dream big and have not many ambitions. As a woman writer, you are expected to focus on writing only “soft topics” and avoid the hard topics. I didn't buy all of that. I thought the sky was the limit. And my gender should never matter.

I have been writing since I was 15 years old in my journals. I have been writing for newspapers since I was 20. Now, I look back and I see that I’ve been writing more than the half of my life. In late 2008, I started journalism professionally. I was overjoyed to be paid for something I adore to do. When Yemen’s 2011 uprising happened, I felt an urge to tell the world about the bravery of my people. I also thought there was a problem: not many native Yemeni journalists write in English about Yemen. I wanted to have a megaphone to the world. So I created a blog.

I had Zero expectation that anyone would read the blog. In fact, till today, there are moments when I think, how the heck all this happened with this blog! Even though I thought no one would read the blog, I had an urge to tell stories. Stories were bursting out of my chest. I needed to tell the world about my people's stories. So I kept on blogging.

What I know today is that no change has ever happened without free press & freedom of expression. It’s the fundamental tool that any community needs to make a change - to express it first freely. And I know that my Yemeni generation needed change and free press, and so did I. So far I've blogged more than 1,000 blog posts and freelanced for dozen places. I bleed stories. Yemeni stories. I know also, No Yemeni has ever written enough. No Yemeni has ever written enough. Let alone of Yemeni women writers.

The award I get today should draw world's attention to Yemeni journos/writers risking their lives in speaking up against multi-faces evil. Today, Yemeni journos if they are not in prison, tortured, attacked, prosecuted, snipered down, assaulted, they are self-censored, in exile or in a refuge. Yemeni journos/writers today are torn between staying in the country & report & face death, or escape & be quiet. I've put blood, sweat & tears writing this; to draw world's attention to the risks Yemeni journos face at war time:

I wish the world can know, the matter of Yemeni journos is a matter that reflects the suffering Yemeni nation as a whole endures. And It's a justice matter. Period.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Caught Between Saudi Coalition and Houthi Rebels, Yemeni Journalists Face Challenges on All Sides


Afef Abrougui from Global Voices published a lengthy report last week on the deteriorating bloody condition of Yemeni media and she interviewed me for the report last May for my take on the violations against Yemeni press following my analysis piece on the subject published by the Atlantic Council Centre published last May as well. The following is the Q&A interview I did with Afef :-

Afef Abrougui (AA): Reporters Without Borders describes the situation for journalists in Yemen as “disastrous”. Can you elaborate more on the types of violations journalists and media are facing in Yemen?

Me: The war has devastated almost every institution and sector in Yemen, including media group. However, in light of the war, journalists have been targeted deliberately and systematically because of their work. There is a massive violence against journalists by different armed groups; Houthis’ forces, Saleh’s forces and extremist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS and Salafis. The types of violations range between death threats, assassination attempts, unlawful killings, kidnappings, unlawful arrests, detentions without trials, forcibly disappearance, being used as civilian shields during armed fights, media offices being stormed in and forcefully shut down, new websites being blocked, among many other violations. The most shocking violation was the prosecution of a journalist and being sentenced to death.

AA: From the research that I have so far been doing online, it seems that Houthi rebels represent the main party responsible for these violations, what about the Saudi-led coalition? In addition to the airstrikes that killed journalists, have the coalition and those supporting Hadi been responsible for silencing journalists and media on the ground (at least in areas under their control)?

Me: Yes, both the Saudis and Hadi’s leadership share equally the reasons of why there is a blackout on Yemen war in media. As the war began in Yemen in early 2015, WikiLeaks released thousands of diplomatic cables from Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry, which included documents showing how Saudi Arabia is buying media silence, Arabic media in specific. Plus, reports have shown how the Saudis are hiring PR companies to polish its image in media and "whitewash” its record on human rights; especially on KSA’s war crimes in Yemen. On the other hand, Hadi’s government have blocked several independent foreign journalists from accessing the country; as their reporting challenges Hadi’s folks’ narrative of the situation in Yemen.

AA: How do you think these attacks/violations are impacting coverage of the war in Yemen, a war that is already under-reported? How does this affect independent media?

Me: Media coverage of Yemen war has become like a battle zone; those who have the money and power manage to use media as a weapon of war in promoting their side of the story only and shaping how Yemen war appears on mainstream media. Each side in the war portraits only its “truth” while it’s totally incomplete picture of the situation. As a result, you find a great deal of war propaganda. No middle ground for any other type of media; local independent press suffers a great deal and it has collapsed. The only remaining Yemeni independent media are the Yemeni freelance journalists or citizen journalists who turned into social media disseminating updates on the situation in Yemen.

AA: What can international organisations that work to promote press and media freedoms do to support Yemeni journalists who are on the ground?

Me: It’s very important to give these journalists the attention while they are alive not when they are killed or arrested; meaning it’s important to reach out to journalists inside Yemen and find ways to meet their needs. Very often, a local Yemeni journalist who is covering the war inside the country would his name grab international media’s headlines when he’s sentenced to death or killed or etc. The attention that these local journalists could get while they are alive could really give them a sort of protection from such violations. More importantly, as Yemen’s economy is collapsing, it’s crucial to financially support these local journalists working on the ground. This could happen through mutual cooperation or allocating assignments for these journalists. In simple words, it’s crucial to support Yemeni journalists or media groups morally and financially.

AA: When Houthi rebels first took control of the capital, they resorted to blocking a number of news websites and blogs, do they still engage in such tactics? Have you recently heard about websites or blogs getting blocked in the country?

Me: Yes, they still use such tactics. Several new websites are blocked in Yemen; such as this one - as Hodeidah is under the Houthis’ control and the website is critical to their behaviour in the city. Blogs are not very popular in Yemen but Facebook represents the equivalent of blogs. There are Facebook celebrities in Yemen who are very active in posting on FB and are critical to the Houthis. These celebrities’ FB accounts have been hacked and sometimes more than once. It seems that’s the Houthis’ tactic to censor.

Monday, June 26, 2017

In Audio, Yemen at the UN Human Rights Council

Last week, I participated in a side session on Yemen war and Public Freedoms; at UN Human Rights Council's 35th session in Geneva, the seminar was co-run by the Committee to Protect Journalists organisation and the Gulf Center for Human Rights and others. Other panellists were Yemeni Human Rights defender Radhya al-Mutawakel from Mwatan Organization and Sherif Mansour from CPJ. Full transcript can be found here. The following audio clips are the recording of my speech and Radhya's.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Speech at the UN Human Rights Council

During a side-session on Yemen war and attacks on public freedoms, yesterday at
the UN Human Rights Council 35 Session in Geneva, Switzerland. Panel was co-run my the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Gulf Center for Human Rights and other organizations. 

Thank you, Khalid. And thank you for the Committee to Protect Journalists organisation for the invitation. I appreciate taking part in this event, despite how difficult the topic is for me. It was very difficult to gather my thoughts for this talk; not only because the situation in Yemen for my family, my friends and my people is beyond any worse humanitarian situation you can imagine of but also because how can I talk about public freedoms without focusing much on the humanitarian catastrophe. As we speak now, the numbers of killed people in Yemen coz of the consequences of the devastation and damage of the war is on a constant rise - cholera alone is killing one person per an hour - and thus we have one funeral per an hour. And still, the tears and pain at these funerals are not heard by those who have the decision to end the war.

Before I speak further on the inhuman and absolute dire situation in Yemen, and also while keeping in mind that we are here today to understand how the war impacted public freedoms, I would like to start by sharing a short story of a young man called Amjad Mohammed Abdulrahman. With his thin and crispy body, Amjad, the 23 years old young man who was a law student in Aden, he had the vision to make a change in his city. Amjad was well-known for his cultural initiatives in town and his critique against extremism; especially the thriving extremism out of the ongoing multi-fronts war in Yemen.

According to Amjad’s close friends, Amjad received repeatedly death threats and was abducted earlier this year by some extremist group on the pretext of Amjad was promoting atheism. Following some intervention by influential armed political leaders, Amjad was released. After this, Amjad got back to the cultural scene and held a public event titled “accepting the other”. Not long after this, last month, a couple of veiled and armed men stormed into an internet cafe where Amjad was at and shot him both in the chest and the face. Amjad was killed, immediately. Following day, the extremists didn’t only ban holding a funeral for Amjad supposedly coz he was an atheist but also they detained four of Amjad’s friends -who mostly work as journalists - as they were about to leave Amjad’s house. One of these four young men who got detained is a colleague of mine. The friends were detained for one day in which they were exposed to severe physical torture. And I had the chance to hear the heartbreaking details of that torture from my colleague. The young men were released after, again, the intervention of influential armed political leaders.

I can go on and continue telling other heartbreaking stories of killed and survival victims but time is tight. Amjad’s story is a one drop in an ocean of horrendous attacks and killings against journalists, activists and ordinary citizens who happened to be at the wrong place & the wrong time. This is my third year to speak at the Council on the crackdown on freedom of expression and press in Yemen, in light of Yemen war. And I can assure you that the crackdown has new faces today after we used to know that the Houthis were the greatest abuser or how the Saudi-led coalition was leading a media blackout on Yemen war. Today, the three years long war in Yemen has produced new armed militias and extremists who are also leading the crackdown.

So - Now, today’s event is much focused on public freedoms and I get a headache when I think of that – because how can we talk about freedoms when the public is in a life or death situation; actually, it’s in a death or death situation. By the UN humanitarian chief’s account; today, the largest humanitarian crisis worldwide is in Yemen. I would also say that the largest disgrace for humanity today is what’s happening to millions of people in Yemen. How could we, mankind, in 2017, allow a man-made disaster rip the lives of thousands and thousands of people? The inaction by the international community and the world’s silence to the suffering of millions of human beings in Yemen is baffling to me.

Sadly, millions of Yemenis’ options are limited; they are trapped in war, with no access to flee the conflict. With no food, no water, no medicine, no shelter and no nothing; they are left to die in a slow death. As you probably know, Yemen has been the poorest Arab country for many years before the war started. That means today that almost the entire population are too poor to flee, too weak to shout, too exhausted to plead.

The war has devastated the already poor country. The war has also devastated everything you can imagine of; freedom of expression, freedom of press, the right to food, the right to live in dignity, the right to dream for a better tomorrow - and above all it has devastated Yemenis’ trust in humanity. As the warring sides; meaning the Saleh/Houthi wing and the Saudi-led coalition and President Hadi wing, as they are all still fighting on who will have the biggest chunk of the cake, death is ripping Yemeni lives in multi-ways; In Yemen, today, if the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes, or the Houthi & Saleh’s bombs and mines or the extremists’ bullets, or the torture at prisons or the epidemic diseases or food scarcity; if all these did not kill you, in Yemen today people are committing suicide. Three weeks ago, a lady in Ibb city, in my late grandfather’s city, the lady poisoned herself and her two daughters and committed suicide as the mother had nothing and could not go begging for help.

Midst of all this death madness, I sometimes wonder; if these warring parties are fighting over who gets the biggest share of the cake, I wonder what is it that they’d rule if the nation is totally wiped out, eventually. I also wonder how all these reports don’t make weapon supplier countries like the US, UK and others rethink or investigate how their weapons sold to the Saudi-led coalition are used in Yemen war?

To sum up, I am not here today to give you the statistics and numbers of how many journalists or activists or civilians were killed, injured or expected to be killed. I am here to tell you that Yemeni people are so tired. Tired of the international community’s broken promises of sending aid which only 10 or 20 percent only were sent. Yemenis are so tired of the international community’s inaction in speeding up any peace talks that could end the war. And more importantly, Yemeni people are so tired of this piece of cake which the warring parties fight over at the expense of innocent Yemeni lives and future.

But am not tired. And I speak now, not as a journalist or Yemeni citizen or an activist. I speak as a human being who is enraged by the amount of injustices Yemenis have to endure. I am enraged seeing how in some countries animals are better treated than my fellow Yemenis. I am not tired of speaking up and so must this council - unless the Human Rights Council want to be at the wrong side of history and betray every value it proclaims to advocate for. I refuse to be tired because even if I were not Yemeni, I will speak up for these people because I think Yemenis deserve justice and live in dignity, just like me and you.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

My audio interview with Status Hour podcast

I had a long chat about my work and Yemen with the Status Hour podcast's journalist Mohamad-Ali Nayel, a couple months ago. Though, the interview was published earlier this month. Full audio interview is here.