Monday, 14 March 2011

Four Journalists Deported From Yemen

Source: New York Times

Armed security forces in Yemen burst into an apartment shared by four Western journalists early Monday morning and expelled them from the country, the journalists said.

The expulsions ratcheted up the government’s effort to control coverage of the widening uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Yemeni government stopped issuing journalist visas when the political unrest began last month and no major news organizations keep bureaus in Yemen, leaving the country largely covered by a handful of freelance correspondents.

The four journalists, all young freelancers for American newspapers, included two United States citizens — Haley Sweetland Edwards, who writes for the Los Angeles Times, and Joshua Maricich, a photographer — and two Britons — Portia Walker, who writes for the Washington Post, and Oliver Holmes, who writes for the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine.

The State Department had warned Yemen against deporting reporters in a statement earlier this month: “The United States Embassy in Sana has watched with concern recent infringements of press freedom in Yemen,” the statement read, including “threats of deporting correspondents, and mistreatment of journalists covering protests.”

A spokesman for the Yemen embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Journalists in Yemen typically enjoy greater freedoms than those in most other Arab countries, with many independent news outlets freely criticizing government policies.

The four expelled journalists had extensively covered the violence used against anti-government protesters over the past three weeks, including video documentation.

But since antigovernment protests began to spread, local journalists have reported facing scores of threats, intimidation and attacks by supporters of Mr. Saleh.

The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate said it had received alerts on more than 50 cases of harassment, including threatening phone calls and serious physical attacks.

One of the foreign reporters, Ms. Edwards, said five armed security men came to the apartment they shared in the old city of Sana and took the four to the immigration authority.

Ms. Edwards, who spoke by phone from the Sana International Airport as she waited for a flight to Istanbul, said she was not certain how the men had entered the apartment.

In the car on the way to immigration , they had time to call several journalist friends and their respective embassies.

They were detained for several hours at the immigration authority, where their phones and passports were taken, before being told by a man who identified himself as Colonel Mohsin that they would be expelled from Yemen for “national security reasons.”

The four were allowed back in their apartment to gather their belongs before heading to the airport, but with an escort of about six armed soldiers.

“We’ve all been to the ministry of information, and they know us, and they said it’s all right to work as journalists here,” said Oliver Holmes, 24, speaking by phone from the airport.

“I’m positive that this is related to the fact that all four of us have been reporting about the upswing of violence against protesters,” he said.While Ms. Edwards, like most freelance reporters here, entered the country on a tourist visa, she said the Yemen embassy in Washington was aware that she had come as a reporter.

Ms. Edwards lived in Yemen for a year in late 2009 through 2010.

”Deporting us is an indication that the crackdown is going to increase,” said Ms. Edwards, “and there’s no one here who’s going to see it.”

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