Yemeni security forces kidnapped leading editor Mohammed al Maqaleh Thursday in apparent retribution for reporting on the Sa’ada War. Human rights groups have expressed concerns of probable torture.
Mr. Al Maqaleh is the editor for the opposition Socialist Party’s website, Al Eshteraki. On Wednesday, al Eshteraki reported on the Yemeni military’s air strikes targeting civilians that killed 87 people and injured over a hundred. The victims were internal war refugees, mostly women and children, sheltering in an open field having escaped the fighting in Sa’ada City. The military launched a second air strike as the survivors fled to a nearby bridge.
Yemen is a state that regularly kidnaps critics, activists, journalists and opposition figures. As human rights groups note, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention are the hallmarks of the Yemeni justice system. In dozens of instances, plain clothes intelligence operatives driving vehicles with military plates have snatched journalists off the street who are then “disappeared” and often tortured.
According to witness reports, five gun wielding masked men in a minibus intercepted Mr. al Maqaleh’s car on Taiz street in Sana’a Thursday evening. They dragged a struggling Mr. al Maqaleh into their vehicle and sped away.
Torture is systemic in Yemen. Tactics include severe beatings, burnings, sexual assaults, threats to family, whipping and depravation. It is likely that editor al Maqaeh is being subjected to these tactics currently.
His cell phone is off and his car found abandoned with the tires slashed. Yemeni authorities refused to take a report from his family, who were turned away at both the police station and the Criminal Investigations Division.
The Yemeni government’s targeting of journalists and suppression of newspapers and web sites is an attempt to cover-up military war crimes committed during the ongoing Sa’ada War. These war crimes include wholesale civilian slaughter, bombing of cities and villages, intentional starvation, and the withholding of medicine and water. Other collective punishment includes the discontinuance of electric and telephone service to Sa’ada. The effected region is home to 700,000 citizens, and comparisons are often made to Darfur.
The Yemeni Center for Human Rights expressed “grave concern” over the safety of the press and especially editor Mohamed al-Maqaleh. The YCHR strongly condemned the kidnapping, demanded his prompt release and the indictment of the perpetrators of this crime.
In 2007, Mohammed al Malqaleh was imprisoned for several months for “disrespecting the judiciary” after he laughed during a particularly absurd moment in the trial of award winning journalist, Abdulkarim al Khaiwani, who was charged with subversion for writing about an earlier round of the Sa’ada war.