Yemen is arguably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but reporting the country’s intractable war, and its accompanying misery, comes now with a death sentence for Yemeni journalists, a conclusion that can be determined from a court ruling handed down in Houthi-controlled Sanaa.
On April 11, the Specialized Criminal Court in the country’s capital sentenced to death four Yemeni journalists – Akram al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid, and Tawfiq al-Mansouri – who had been languishing for five years in prison, awaiting trial and their eventual fate.
As is the maxim, the first casualty of war is the truth, which means journalists are often the first to die.
As is the maxim, the first casualty of war is the truth, which means journalists are often the first to die, a reality underscored by the fact that journalism is ranked one of the world’s most dangerous professions, but being killed while reporting from a battlefield is one thing. It is another to be arrested, convicted, and executed by a government or quasi-regime for merely carrying out the lawful duties of your job.
This is precisely what the Iranian-backed Houthi government is doing in serving four journalists their death notice. These men will soon have the culmination of their respective lives choked out of them at the end of a rope. Their only crime: reporting Houthi perpetrated war crimes and human rights violations. Each convicted on trumped-up charges, including “spying on behalf of the Saudi government,” and “broadcasting rumors, fake news and statements in support of the enemy.”
“It is outrageous that these brave journalists remain at risk of death simply for telling the world the truth about the suffering in Yemen,” says Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director.
To mark World Press Freedom Day, which fell on May 3, the human rights organization urged the Houthi authorities to “immediately squash their death sentences and drop all pending charges and release all journalists imprisoned for their work.”
The targeting of journalists has been the modus operandi of the Houthi rebel group since it seized control of Sanaa in March 2015.
The targeting of journalists, along with political opponents, human rights activists, and religious minorities, has been the modus operandi of the Houthi rebel group since it seized control of the capital Sanaa in March 2015.
“The Houthi militia is a racist group that has no regard for peaceful coexistence, human rights, civil society, and democracy,” Mohammed Al-Rumim, a Yemeni journalist based in Taizz, told Inside Arabia. The group has “killed thousands of civilians, including women and children,” alongside dozens of journalists.
“Houthi rebels have planted more than 850,000 landmines in 11 different Yemeni provinces,” Al-Rumim added.
That said, there’s no excusing the fact that this has been a Saudi-UAE coalition led war, with most of the country’s deaths and destruction coming courtesy of Saudi and UAE warplanes, and with the United States providing logistical and aerial support. But whereas the coalition war crimes have received a significant level of attention in the international media, crimes carried out by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias have received almost none, despite the availability of an abundance of evidence.
“Houthi forces have used banned antipersonnel landmines and fired artillery indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Hodeida, killing and wounding civilians, and indiscriminately launched ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia,” Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa.”
“Houthi forces have held people hostage,” HRW reports. At the same time, “Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.”
In sentencing four Yemeni journalists to death, the Houthi authorities have taken an unprecedented step in their prosecution of a war that’s entered its sixth year.
Of the 20 journalists currently imprisoned by Houthi authorities, 16 were kidnapped, according to the Yemeni Journalist’s Syndicate (YJS), which had documented the deaths of 27 journalists since the war began.
“The death sentences are typical of the way the Houthi rebels have systematically persecuted journalists, and are indicative of a readiness to use summary justice to settle scores with all critical media,” says Sabrina Bennoui, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Middle East desk.
“Neither the sentences nor the arbitrary detention of all ten journalists since 2015 can be justified. They must be freed,” adds Bennoui.
In shutting down dozens of independent newspapers and radio stations, and detaining and murdering journalists, the aim of Houthi authorities in Yemen’s capital is made abundantly clear: to control the airwaves in a way that allows only its interpretation or distortion of truth to emerge from its controlled territory.
The Houthis’ war on journalists violates the terms of what’s described as a unilateral two-week “coronavirus ceasefire.”
The Houthis’ war on journalists and the truth is happening at the same time that it violates the terms of what’s described as a unilateral two-week “coronavirus ceasefire,” having carried out 241 offensive military actions in a recent 48 hour period, including the use of ballistic missile attacks, according to the Saudi-UAE led coalition.
Of course, Yemeni civilians remain the greatest victim in this tragedy, one that has no foreseeable end in sight, and one that has left more than a quarter million people dead and injured, and 23 million in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
The more the international community is denied a clear view of this misery and suffering, the more it will be allowed to roll on uninterrupted – and this right here is why the Houthi authorities’ campaign of terror against journalists is so deadly.