Exclusive interview:
Independent Yemeni news outlets sacked, journalists kidnapped

I just got off the phone with Sameer Jubran, editor and co-founder of the independent Yemeni newspaper and website, Al Masdar. According to Jubran, the news organization’s headquarters was just sacked by Houthi militants.

In this archival photo from 2010, Al Masdar editor Sameer Jubran stands in court after being charged with insulting the government. (AP)

“Minutes ago, dozens of militants stormed the building that had the newspaper’s headquarters,” he said. “They kidnapped practically everyone who was there and took away all of our equipment.”

“For the past weeks, the staff at the paper has been harassed,” Jubran continued. “I’ve been harassed and followed to my home.” Because of the threat, Jubran is currently outside of Yemen.

Jubran is no stranger to press freedom threats. In 2010, he and another journalist were convicted by former president Saleh’s regime for insulting the government and “threatening national unity.” He received a one-year suspended sentence. Then in 2013, local police defused a bomb that was intended to blow up Al Masdar headquarters.

Al Masdar was not the only news organization targeted. According to Jubran, Houthi militants also sacked independent satellite channel Yemen Shabab, which is located in the same building as Al Masdar. “The same thing happened to them,” he said. Meanwhile, there are reports that other independent news outlets have been raided, but at the time of this writing, their status cannot be confirmed.

Jubran is currently talking with co-workers who managed to avoid being rounded up, and is trying to determine exactly which staff were kidnapped.

The Houthis has spent much of the last 10 years fighting the Yemeni government. In recent months they made extraordinary inroads, taking over the capital Sana’a. Their push towards Aden this week triggered last night’s airstrikes against them by a coalition of regional partners led by Saudi Arabia.

Also yesterday, the Houthis issued a decree ordering Yemeni news organizations to stop defaming their movement. With today’s raid on Al Masdar, Yemen Shabab and possibly other news outlets, it appears they are making good on that threat.