As a reminder of a narrowing margin of freedom online
(Sana'a – Yemen) In a rather emotional entry posted on his blog, Nashwan Abdu Ali Ghanim, a Yemeni blogger with blogs on maktoobblogs.com and kitab.com called upon international advocacy groups and the Arab Bloggers Union to come for his rescue upon escaping ‘three failed assassination attempts’. Ghanim believes that his latest blog entry noting the involvement of senior Yemeni officials in the plotting of the attack carried out against the U.S. embassy in Sana'a on September 17, 2008 triggered a new wave of harassments and life-threatening acts.
“They want to kill me… So I urge you to immediately intervene” he said in a blog entry dated Tuesday November 18, 2008.
Support from ANHRI
A day later –Wednesday, November 19, 2008- the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) responded by releasing a strongly worded protest letter criticizing the Yemeni authorities.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information denounces this cruel campaign, which breaks all international laws and conventions, and even the Yemeni constitution. ANHRI consider this campaign a breach of democratic principles which the regime in Yemen claims to protect and adopt, and calls upon the Yemeni authorities to end the security persecution against Ali Ghanim and guarantee his integrity.” the organization said in its press release released on Wednesday, November 19, 2008.
A controversial article
Ghanim said he was chased by various elements in the country, threatened of being killed, besieged in his home, and exposed to other acts of harassment by government authorities after he had published a controversial article on the website of the Washington, DC-based Al-Hewar Center, which promotes online forum discussions and dialogue on matters of concern to the Arab world.
In his article, Ghanim accused the regime of being behind the attack on the U.S. Embassy which killed ten people and resulted, at the time, in the temporary suspension of the embassy's activities. He claimed that Yahya Al-Arasi, whom he said was the press secretary of the Vice President of Yemen, was directly involved in the attack and blame extremist elements for it in order to exploit the U.S. for financial aid and to achieve several other objectives.
It is worth noting this article was not the first that Ghanim mentioned Al-Arasi by name as he had frequently written in discussion forums and in his blog about Al-Arasi's involvement in various acts of intimidation and threats against him.
Attacks on Yemeni online media on the rise
Attacks against website owners, journalists and bloggers as well as censorship of websites in Yemen have been in a steady rise in recent years. Among the recent cases is the 70-day detention of Loui Al-Moayed, the editor of yemenhurr.net. His website, which was known to contain content critical of the government's handling of the war in Saadah, was also censored months before his arrest, which took place on June 30th, 2008.
In another case, the director of Hewarye.com online forum was attacked by the guards of the premier office in Sana'a on September 22, 2008, yet the perpetrators were not questioned.
In a third of many other cases, the editor of Mukallapress.com, Salem ba Mudawwikh, had also complained about threats he received due to his website's emphasis on anti-government protests in the south of the country.
Furthermore, censorship of websites for their political content remains one of the most worrisome signs of a shrinking margin of online freedom of expression in Yemen. The authorities had banned or continue to ban dozens of websites containing criticism of state policies or covering activities of groups protesting against the regime.
Among the most renowned cases was the censorship of the news aggregator yemenportal.net on January 19, 2008. Upon its ban and in coordination with other banned websites, Yemen Portal started an anti-censorship campaign against the government in creating a portal containing fetched content from most blocked websites plus circumvention techniques to bypass government ban. The car belonging to the Yemen Portal office in Sana'a was vandalized by unknown men days after the anti-censorship campaign had started. No investigation was carried out to bring the culprits to justice.
Internet's impact growing
It is worth noting that government's actions against websites had contributed in raising awareness of the growing importance of the Internet in Yemen as an alternative means of expression and access of information. Given that the Yemeni regime continues to monopolize broadcast media and imposes various restrictions on print media, the Internet is increasingly appealing to a wider sector of the Yemeni community wishing to learn alterative news and opinion content without government intervention.
Many bloggers and website owners fear that the government may attempt to extend the restrictions imposed on press media to the online media, triggering a potential wave of mass censorship efforts and prosecution of bloggers and other online activists and writers.