The intensity of a given national conflict can often be ascertained from the state of journalism in the country. In the case of Yemen, the situation for journalists highlights just how bad things have deteriorated.
The conditions for journalists in Yemen are some of the worst facing media personnel anywhere in the world. Reporters are routinely threatened, kidnapped, and even killed by opposition forces in the country. Objective reporting is not often in the interest of militant groups.
This unfortunate fact is illustrated in the recently published story of Yousif Aglan, a young journalist in the capital city of Sanaa. Over a year ago, Aglan was picked up off the street by a gang of Houthi rebels, beaten into submission in the back of a van, and driven off to a prison run by the militants.
Yemeni journalists like Aglan have faced increasing threats on their lives since late 2014 when Houthi rebels seized Sanaa, and large swaths of the impoverished country - the event that formed the catalyst for the current war. Almost immediately after ousting the government, the Houthis launched a crackdown on dissent, ransacking the offices of all the large Yemeni media outlets including Suhail TV, Yemen Shebab TV, and Yemen Al Youm.
The intervention of neighboring countries to assist governmental forces in Yemen only exacerbated the threat against media. Both sides began investing huge sums of money bolstering propaganda messages, thus raising the stakes of the information war. Any report seen as promoting the pro-government coalition or critical of the Houthis carried deadly risks for those responsible.
Eventually, Houthi commanders began openly encouraging the killing of journalists. Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi told his men to target reporters and called them “more dangerous than fighters.” These attacks soon became the norm.
According to the International Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 15 journalists have been murdered in Yemen since the conflict erupted, and a staggering 103 have been kidnapped or arrested according to the International Federation of Journalists. Added to these stats is the fact that hundreds of TV and other media stations have been destroyed throughout the country in the unrelenting coalition bombing campaigns.
The war on journalism has drastically affected the ability to assess the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and understand the overall situation in the country. The flow of accurate information coming out of Yemen has slowed to a trickle. The few reports that are collected have to be published mostly through foreign outlets. When articles are uploaded to the web, the authors must remain anonymous to ensure their safety.
If we are to understand the conflict in Yemen any better and work towards anything like a comprehensive solution, the accurate flow of information will have to be a high priority effort for those seeking to quell the tide of violence within the country.