Monday, March 14, 2011

British, American journalists deported from Yemen

National Security Reporters - please note

Three freelance journalists who were providing the majority of foreign news coverage of Yemen’s increasingly unstable climate were deported from the country Monday, Michelle Shephard filed to The Star.

The two British reporters and an American journalist had been writing for the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly and Time magazine, among other publications and blogs.

No major news organization staffs a bureau in Yemen, and with foreign journalist visas difficult to obtain, the daily coverage of the recent anti-government protests has been left to a handful of dogged freelance journalists.

Violence in the country increased over the weekend and Monday, with at least four people reportedly killed in clashes between riot police and student demonstrators calling for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Police used water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition to try to disperse protestors who have waged a three-week sit-in outside the gates of Sanaa University. Yemen’s news agency reported Monday that three soldiers were killed in clashes in the north, and in the central Maarib province, a local governor was critically wounded in a stabbing.

The deported journalists — who had reported extensively on the weekend demonstrations — were told their removal Monday was an issue of “national security.”

A spokesperson from Yemen’s Embassy in Washington was unavailable for comment.

“Over the past three days violence was ratcheted up in the capital and I think that’s the reason I’m not in Yemen anymore, because I was there at the protests every day, reporting,” British journalist Oliver Holmes said in a telephone interview during a flight stopover in Qatar.

“We want this to be known because I’m tired of the Yemeni government just harassing journalists and kicking them out if they’re not happy with what they write.”

The 24-year-old has lived in the country’s capital on a residency visa, studying Arabic and reporting since October 2009.

“They came into our house at 7 a.m. and told us to get dressed and took us,” said 28-year-old freelance journalist Haley Sweetland Edwards in a telephone interview from Sanaa’s airport, before she boarded a flight to Istanbul. “Four hours later they took us home, let us pack up our stuff and brought us to the airport.”

In addition to Edwards and Holmes, British journalist Portia Walker and American photographer and researcher Joshua Maricich, who had started a Yemen adventure club in 2007 to help youths learn how to rock climb, were also deported.

The four shared a home in Sanaa and were together when armed security forces detained them Monday morning.

Edwards, who had applied for her month-long visa through the U.S. Embassy, had lived in Sanaa for 10 months last year to work as a stringer and study Arabic. She said Monday she would return to her apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia but will apply for travel to Yemen again as soon as possible.

“I would love to get back,” said Edward. “Yemen is very important to me and I’ve been covering this story for two years now.”

Freelancer Laura Kasinof, who writes for the New York Times, is one of the few remaining foreign journalists in the country.

“It’s certainly very tense here for the Western journalists who are left and we’re tying to figure out the best way to proceed,” the 25-year-old said in a telephone interview from a friend’s home.

Press freedom in Yemen is considered better than most Arab countries, but as anti-government demonstrations grow and the government’s crackdown on protestors intensifies, journalists are increasingly being targeted.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement earlier this month saying American officials had watched with “concern” over “recent infringement of press freedom.”

Yemen Times Managing Editor Jeb Boone said he had been picked up by police on his way home Sunday night and held for an hour before being escorted back to his house.

“Just today I figured out I could hide my camera in a packet of cigarettes to get through the security line to the protests,” the 24-year-old Augusta, Georgia native said in an interview Monday.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement last month urging the authorities to allow protestors to demonstrate peacefully and journalists to report freely.

“Beating up journalists is a blatant attempt by authorities to prevent Yemeni people and the world from witnessing a critical moment in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the group’s Middle East and North African division.

first Published On Mon Mar 14 2011

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