Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Yemeni Journalist Sentenced to Death for Being a "Saudi Spy"

A Houthi-affiliated Yemeni court in Sana'a, Yemen sentenced today Yemeni journalist and academic, Yahya al-Joubaihy to death for treason, Houthi-owned news agency Saba'a News Agency reported. "The criminal court issued a death sentence against Yahya al-Joubaihy, 61, for treason and spying with the enemy state {Saudi Arabia}, as correspondence documents between him and the enemy proved his treason," Saba'a News Agency claimed, "Yahya contacted Saudia Arabia illegally, communicated with its ambassador and secretary and delivered reports that harm the republic of Yemen. Yahya also received 4500 Saudi riyals monthly starting from 2010."

Yahya's house was stormed by Houthi forces on the 6th of September in 2016 and he was detained along confiscating his personal belongings, mobile, computer and documents, according to a statement of condemning issued by Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate today. Just before Yahya's arrest, his son was also arrested by Houthi forces, until today.

source: Yahya's daughter on facebook. 

Journalists and writers have always been subjected to a great risk in Yemen along Saleh's rule, but the deteriorating condition for journalists under Houthis' rule is unprecedented. This is probably the very first time a journalist is sentenced to death. Yahya is one face of many journalists and young men abducted and forcibly detained by the Houthis since they overtook Sana'a city in Septemeber 2014. Reporters without borders have ranked the Houthis for two years in a row as the second top abuser of press freedom in the world after the Islamic State.

"Statistics show until the end of 2016 that more than 3,000 men have been abducted by the Houthis", on a phone call a spokesperson of "Mothers of the Abductees," told me. The coalition is compromised of mothers, daughters and sisters and female relatives of abducted and forcibly disappeared men in Houthis' prisons in Sana'a and few other Yemeni cities. The spokesperson who asked to hide its name for security reasons also added, "a great deal of the abducted group has been hidden for two years now without granting them any contact with their families. Let alone that they have been in jail with no trial, whatsoever."

A couple days ago, Islahi-owned TV channel, al-Suhail aired a video report of the Houthi-affiliated court's trail of 36 people in accusation of supporting Saudi Arabia. One of the jailed men pleaded loudly that this is the first time he and the imprisoned people see light and that he has been tortured and he demanded to have a fair trail.

Yemen's president, Hadi and six other top officials in his government were sentenced to death for "high treason", last month. No comment of any of these death sentences has been made by Hadi's office. Meanwhile, social media pages in Yemen have been flooded with words of solidarity with Yahya, petitions and numberless calls for his release, asserting that Yahya is absolutely innocent.

Yahya wrote regular columns in Saudi dailies Okaz and Al-Madina, as well as in Yemeni newspapers. He served at the government's press department in the 1990s and 2000s when Saleh was president and Hadi was his deputy.

In solidarity with Yahya and all our victim brothers of injustice sitting behind Houthis' jail! 

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Saudi-led coalition's strategy in Yemen is entirely counter-productive

A poster reads "two years of aggression that achieved nothing but destruction, devastation and killing of innocents" at a protest in Sana'a, March 26th, 2017. 

*It has now been two years since the Saudi-led coalition began waging its war in Yemen against the rebel group, the Houthis.

The coalition's military operation was intended to "save the people of Yemen from a radical group (the Houthis) trying to take over the country," as expressed by Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir in a news conference on the day the military operation began - 26 March, 2015. So far, the coalition's military strategy has not reduced Houthi "radicalism", rather it has become completely counter-productive, and instead of weakening the Houthis, it is strengthening them.

For many Yemenis, 26 March signifies not just the beginning of all out war, but one of the chapters in the violent unrest the country has been witnessing since the 2011 uprising. Indeed, many regard September 2014 - when the Houthis stormed into the capital city, Sanaa - as a turning point in the country's chain of armed conflicts. Following the Houthis taking de-facto control of Sanaa, the general sentiment in Sanaa was one of a refusal of what the Houthis represented. One anti-Houthi protest after another crystallised into a peaceful anti-Houthi movement named "Refusal". The capital witnessed many anti-Houthi protests raising slogans, such as "no for coup" and "no to armed militias".

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why the world ignores Yemen

Sanaa, Yemen [Photo: yeowatzup/Wikimedia]

I had this interview last January with Harvard School's journal of middle eastern politics and policy.


It’s a devastating Middle Eastern war in which millions of people have been forced to flee their homes. Regional rivals are using the conflict to expand their own influence, while al-Qaeda and the Islamic State seek to take advantage of the chaos. Bombing raids strike civilian areas with impunity, and torture is common.

Everyone knows that all this is happening in Syria. Yet many laymen are unaware that the same things are taking place in Yemen, too. So why have most people heard so little about the Yemeni war in comparison? What are the challenges journalists face in covering the conflict? JMEPP spoke with award-winning Yemeni journalist and blogger Afrah Nasser about media coverage of the war, and what lies ahead for her country.

Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy: How well would you say the Western media has covered the war in Yemen? What about Arab media outlets’ coverage?

Afrah Nasser: Comparing to other tragedies, like natural disasters or terrorist attacks or even the war in Syria, the western media coverage of the war in Yemen has been so little; and whenever there is, it is unfortunately often in the form of parachute journalism.

This is largely because it’s been hard to access Yemen, as Saudi Arabia has enforced a blockade on Yemen, and if you want to go you as a journalist (Arab or non-Arab) or as a foreigner, you have to have permission from the Saudis and the rebels, the Houthis. It has been like hell to enter or leave Yemen even for ordinary Yemenis themselves; a trip that usually would take you few hours might take days or weeks. I met my mother earlier this month in Ethiopia after she went from Sana’a to Aden, then to Cairo, then to Addis Ababa. She also had to take the same long and expensive journey back to Sana’a.

That’s being said, it’s costly and risky for journalists to access Yemen. And if you do enter Yemen, some western and Arabic media outlets might not buy your story because they are careful of annoying the Saudis. At the same time, inside Yemen, the Houthis have caused a major crackdown on all journalists. Houthis are ranked the second-leading abductors of journalists in the world after the Islamic State, according to the latest report by Reporters without Borders.

JMEPP: Would you say that the war in Syria is the main reason that the Yemeni war has received comparatively little attention, or are there other important factors at play?

Nasser: The war in Syria is partially a reason for the little attention Yemen has received: that is, the Syrian refugees pouring into the European coast helped Syrians get great attention and empathy. But Yemenis are trapped between the Gulf countries – who are bombing them – and the sea neighbouring other poor countries, i.e. Somalia and Djibouti.

Moreover, unlike the war in Syria, the Saudis are a direct actor in the Yemen war and this tremendously impacts the lack of reporting or the non-reporting on the Yemen war. 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. Understandably, the oil-rich country, one of the world’s top economic powers, Saudi Arabia has cash that can buy anything and anyone. The problem is, Saudi Arabia is at war with not any country but the poorest Arab country, Yemen – which gives you an idea about the unequal power in this war.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Yemen War: Between Internal and External Interests

2015 - Saudi-led coalition’s airstrike hits Yemeni Capital, Sana’a. Courtesy: Reuters.

*The war in Yemen is often described as a forgotten war and when/if it is remembered, it is not seen with a holistic lens recognising the full picture of the conflict – and this automatically leads to flawed conclusions. Great focus is often paid to the geopolitics of the war in Yemen, i.e how Yemen has become the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while a lesser focus is paid to the domestic politics. The internal eco-political dynamics between the different local political and tribal actors is to a great extent the fundamental driving force of the war in Yemen. That is, the local political landscape is dominated by survival politics and checks and balances which influence the geopolitical relation between Yemen and countries involved in the conflict. More importantly, not giving a complete consideration to Yemen’s domestic politics by the international community hinders reaching any peace process for Yemen’s 2-years-long war.

Hopeful Uprising
A good starting point could be in understanding that there have been three stages to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. In the wake of Yemen’s 2011 uprising, it was a conflict between ousted Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents – particularly those who helped topple him. By mid-2014 it was a conflict between an alliance formed by Saleh and the rebels, the Houthis against Saleh’s successor, Yemen’s transitional president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government. Then, in March 2015, Saudi Arabia declared a war against the Houthis.

2011 - Yemen’s 2011 uprising marked its sixth anniversary this month. Photo Courtesy: Afrah Nasser.

To understand the origin of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, it is essential to go back to 2011 when Yemeni youth joined the wave of revolutions happening across the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA). I vividly remember seeing how youth gradually took the streets in 2011 starting gradually from the front gate of my university, Sana’a University, which later was dubbed Taghyeer (change) square. The demand was the overthrow of ousted Yemeni president, Saleh, despite that overthrowing Saleh’s 32-years old regime was a dream my generation and I would have never imagined would come true. We understood, though, that this was the first step in fragmenting the great grip Saleh used to have.

Following a couple of months of protest, Saleh’s opponents, like one of Yemen’s most influential politicians, Hamid al-Ahmar and some allies, like one of Yemen’s top army-men and actually Saleh’s half-brother, Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar – opponents and allies alike joined the uprising and worked also hard to end Saleh’s rule. The greatest blow against Saleh was when several influential tribal and political leaders switched sides in the aim of weakening Saleh’s power. Perhaps, Saleh was more upset of his allies turning tables, than the real revolution against him by his people.

As the protests grew, Saleh started to go into public speeches warning about a coup or a civil war. In March 2011, Saleh warned, “those who want to climb up to power through coups should know that this is out of the question. The homeland will not be stable, there will be a civil war, a bloody war. They should carefully consider this.”

Change without Justice

Consequently, Saleh’s forces intensified its crackdown on the protesters and killing has become the norm. To cease the bloodshed, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiated a power-transfer plan in April 2011. After many long negotiations, Saleh accepted to step down. And that was the point when the unspoken countdown for the civil war which Saleh warned of began.