Yemeni Government Following Egypt's Repressive Lead?

February 4, 2011

By Alireza Azizi, Yemen Country Specialist

Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, and in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people, on Thursday February 3rd, thousands of anti-government protesters took part in a protest calling on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 33 years.

A day before Thursday’s demonstration, president Saleh announced that he would not seek re-election when his present term ends in 2013 and he will postpone April’s parliamentary election, two of the key demands of the opposition.  Yemen is entering its third week of protests calling for reforms, including an end to unemployment, and respect for freedom of expression.

Yemen — challenged by the presence of al-Qa’ida, a separatist movement in the south, and peacekeeping with the Shia rebels (Huthis) in the north — has increasingly resorted to repressive and illegal methods, including arbitrary arrest and unfair trials.

In the midst of growing call for reforms, the crackdown on freedom of expression has worsened.  The Yemeni government has become increasingly intolerant of the independent media and any criticism. Journalists, editors and publishers have been detained, held incommunicado, ill-treated and jailed on spurious charges after unfair trials.  Security forces raided newspaper offices and television stations and shot at demonstrators peacefully protesting against repression of free speech. Newspapers have also been suspended and news websites blocked.

Among those arrested for participation in one of the protests is prominent activist Tawakkol Karman, President of Women Journalists Without Chains. She was released a day later and charged with taking part in an unlicensed protest. Two days later her brother received a phone call implying that she would be killed if he did not ensure that she stay at home.

Tawakkol Karman intends to pursue her work despite the intimidation. She told Amnesty International:

“I shall continue, I chose this road and at the end of the day it is a matter of sacrifice. People are peacefully protesting and they are facing repression.”

Mohamed Al Bouazzizi, the poor fruit seller who ignited the Tunisian revolution and gave his life to that cause, probably never thought that the fire that he started could grow as far as Egypt and Yemen.