Saturday, 13 March 2010

Yemen minister under fire for moves to gag media

By Hammoud Mounasser

SANAA — An opposition MP said on Saturday he will seek to have the information minister grilled in parliament over moves to block live satellite TV coverage of the deadly unrest in south Yemen.

Information Minister Hassan al-Lawzi should be questioned over "the seizure of the transmission equipment of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya," Abdul Razek al-Hajari told a meeting in Sanaa.

Hundreds of journalists, parliamentarians and civil society groups gathered in Sanaa to show solidarity with the channels whose transmission gear was seized by the information ministry on Thursday.
The ministry said the move was in response to the stations' coverage of the deadly unrest in south Yemen.

A source in Yemen's ruling party warned the authorities could shut down Al-Jazeera, accusing the network of a lack of objectivity in its coverage of the unrest, the official Saba news agency reported.

"We regret that Al-Jazeera has recently started to be partial and abuse its profession targeting Yemen's unity and reporting false reports... on the situation in the south," the source was quoted as saying.

The source said Al-Jazeera was also broadcasting "archive photos," stressing that such action could lead "to igniting the situation in Yemen and losing the credibility of the pan-Arab channel."

"We urge the TV office in Yemen to reconsider their programmes and adhere to objectivity when reporting in Yemen," the source said.

"If the office continues its misleading, Yemen will close it," Saba reported.
The information ministry said the equipment was confiscated because they were being used without clearance from Yemeni authorities.

Such equipment "should not serve to provoke trouble and amplify events in such a way as to harm public order, as has been the case with Al-Jazeera," a ministry spokesman said.
But Saeed Thabet, deputy head of the Yemeni journalists' union, insisted at the Sanaa gathering that the move was "illegal," appealing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to intervene and have it reversed.

Other speakers charged that the government was trying to cover up its heavy-handed methods in the south, where unrest has been fired up by a secessionist campaign and charges of economic neglect.

"The authorities are trying to kill the witnesses... of a crime because the channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera are the best witnesses of their actions in Yemen," said an opposition Islamist MP, Fuad Dahana.

On Thursday, three activists were killed and five wounded as protests in southern towns sparked clashes with police, amid sympathy rallies in the north against an official crackdown, opposition sources said.

Pro-independence protests have multiplied in the south in the face of already impoverished Yemen's worsening economic problems.

South Yemen was independent from 1967 until it united with the north in 1990. An attempt to break away again in 1994 sparked a short-lived civil war that ended when the south was overrun by northern troops.

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