Tawfil Al-Himyaree, manager of the ruling party’s newspaper, Addimukratee, witnessed the revolution in Yemen, and here he tells DCMF about how he was kidnapped, arrested and targeted in overnight-raids.
In Yemen, the revolution was not a quick fix but a protracted process riddled with challenges and hurdles. It saw journalists facing tough tests to convey the truth and report on events.
The experience of ruling newspaper Addimukratee's manager, provides an insight into some of the hazards that brave Yemeni journalists faced in trying to communicate the truth of what was going on in the country back then.
It was the evening of March 11, 2012 and the "Change Square" was teeming with crowds of young protesters. I went to the podium and delivered a speech in which I warned the youth against the implications of the release of 82 Al Qaida prisoners by the intelligence. I highlighted that the regime talked to them before their release and it was very likely a deal was reached between them to storm the square.
On my way back home, a suspicious car hit me from the back, throwing me on the ground. I started shouting as loud as I could but in no time I found myself surrounded by four people. I first thought they came to help me but one of them pointed a gun at me and said threateningly: “Don't try to resist, there are three more silencers pointed at you."
They put me in the car, handcuffed and blindfolded me. I asked them who they were and what they wanted from me, but before I finished my questions, I received a punch in my face and an order to shut up or they would "break my mouth."
They drove for three minutes during which I was carefully focusing on the turns the car took and the distance covered thanks to my knowledge of the road on which they picked me up. When the car pulled over, I realised that we were in a place near Change Square. I was able to hear the chants of the youth emanating from there.
For a while I thought we were in a police station but I found out later that it was a house. They confiscated my mobile phone, ID and other personal belongings right after we reached the house.
Then they started questioning me about where I got the information that I said in my speech. I told them that I was just drawing conclusions from my reading of the regime's tactics… The interrogation went on until late in the night during which I was subjected to various kinds of torture ranging from beating to kicking and verbal abuse.
One of the interrogators used to shout in my face threatening: "There are still few seconds before we wipe the Change Square and the people inside it from the map."
They carried their threats through. On the dawn of Saturday 12 March, they stormed the square. From where I was locked in a narrow corridor, I heard what was going on and it triggered mixed feelings in me. I cried when I heard the sound of an ambulance car carrying a wounded or a dead young protester. However, I cried with joy when I heard the crowds chanting the glorious slogan "People want to change the regime." It told me that the youth had stood their ground.
My ordeal lasted for a week during which I had to drink from the bathroom tap and eat the scraps which they used to hand me.
On the Friday of "Dignity" a week after my capture, security forces clashed with the protesters, leading to the youth storming the building in which I was detained and setting me free along with others.
Assaults and Destruction of Media Equipment
As the world marked the World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May 2012, a twenty-member armed group stormed the headquarters of my newspaper, looting our equipment which included devices, documents and mobile phones. The assault which began at midnight was conducted by senior and very influential officers from the army and security forces who were never held to account for what they did.
Twins Born Out of the Womb of Suffering
On 23rd of June 212, I left my office and hit the road back home. It was late in the night when I saw four armed men get off a Hilux car and started beating me, breaking my nose and shoulder. The masked men kept saying to me: "You, non-believer... you insult the clerics and mistreated them." They destroyed my laptop and left me lying unconscious on the ground.
After sometime, a police man took me to the hospital and left his gun with the accountant as a guarantee for treatment expenses. The beating came in the wake of news that we published about the army finding bodies of non-Yemeni Al Qaida fighters who were brought in the country by a leading cleric in Yemen.
The next day I awoke to see my brother by my bedside and asked him: "Has my wife heard the news of the accident?" He assured me: "Don't worry; she is around the corner in the obstetrics section. She has given birth to two twin boys."
Back In the Custody of the Intelligence
Families of prisoners held a rally on October 6, 2012 to protest the bad conditions in which they lived. I was there in front of the intelligence headquarters when the security forces arrested and beat me, twisting my right hand. They blindfolded me and took me to prison where I was interrogated for hours and subjected to verbal abuse.
A member of the Democratic Party who participated in the protest told the media about my detention. Newspapers, websites and other media outlets published the news, contributing to my quick release from jail.
An interrogator threatened me saying that if I published news about the intelligence again, I would see my family standing in front of my jail for years calling for my release.
Media Conditions in Post-Revolution Era
The bad working conditions for media workers still persist without a major change after the revolution. Several journalists, myself included, are inclined to think that the revolution is still on and that the desired change has not been achieved. The same obstacles which used to hamper the work of journalists are still there. What has changed, though, is the improvement of access to information and people's increasing awareness of the role social media can play in reporting what takes place around them. Yet, lack of security presents a serious challenge to journalists who most of the time find their lives and jobs on the line due to a lack of protection from the security forces which curtail their freedom instead.
Another hardship weighing heavily on the life and work of journalists is low income, which is seen as a crippling material challenge affecting their ability to carry out their duty.
Anyone following developments in Yemen certainly knows that there are issues which are off-limits to journalists, chief among which is the question of "terrorism and armed groups." Most journalists currently behind bars have tried to cover this thorny issue.
There is also rampant corruption which rocks the state and is encouraged by interest groups and senior officials.
Some media institutions impose self-censorship on journalists on certain issues that have to do with state agencies or influential figures. Sometimes, they refuse to publish news for fear of backlashes and reactions.
Added to this is the fact that some political parties and social groups object to media criticism of religious institutions.
Reporting on any of these issues could expose journalists to risks like kidnapping and long term imprisonment, especially in the absence of legal bodies or media unions with the strength to prevent these violations and defend journalists.
Against all odds, Yemeni journalists keep hunting and conveying the truth at all costs, regardless of the sacrifices they make.