Sunday, January 23, 2011

Woman journalist and activist is arrested in Sanaa amid wave of protests

Observed by: Mr. Alaa Isam

Reporters Without Borders demands the immediate release of journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman, the head of the NGO Women Journalists Without Chains, who was arrested for unclear reasons in the capital, Sanaa, yesterday evening following a protest in the city in the afternoon. Her family said she is being held in Sanaa’s main prison.

Yesterday’s demonstration was part of a 10-day-old wave of protests in Yemen inspired in part by the protests in Tunisia that led to its president’s ouster on 14 January. Around 20 people have reportedly been arrested in Yemen’s protests, in which calls are being made for major political reforms.

Karman, who is one of the leading figures in these protests, was arrested on a Sanaa street by plain-clothes police officers as she was returning home with her husband.

More than 200 journalists took part in a march this morning to demand the release of all those arrested. It set off from the office of the Journalists’ Union and was heading for the headquarters of the prosecutor’s office.

A cameraman working for the Dubai-based satellite TV station Al-Arabiya was meanwhile briefly detained this morning while filming police dispersing a student protest outside Sanaa University. An Al Jazeera cameraman was roughed up.

One of the events that triggered these protests was the announcement of legislative elections in April and the possibility of a constitutional amendment that would allow President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was reelected for seven years in 2006, to remain in power. Saleh has been Yemen’s president since reunification in 1990. Before that, he had been North Yemen’s president since 1978.

Saleh was added to the Reporters Without Borders list of the world’s 40 “Predators of Press Freedom” last year, while Yemen was ranked 170th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

In the southern city of Aden, police yesterday arrested Abdel Khaliq Al-Hawad, who works for the newspaper Akhbar Aden (Aden News), as he tried to cover a demonstration staged by an opposition party and civil society organizations in protest against earlier arrests and the army siege of the town of Ridfan.

Al Jazeera’s Aden correspondent, Fadel Mubarak, was warned by the provincial head of security of Abyan (the province to the east of Aden province) that he would be added to the list of wanted persons if he continued to cover events in the south of the country.

A journalist who has specialized in covering Al-Qaeda, Ilah Haydar Shae, was sentenced to five years in prison on 18 January by a Sanaa court that handles terrorism cases (


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