Deported correspondents surprised at sudden change in treatment

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SANA’A, March 16th – Foreign journalists writing for international media were taken aback by the sudden change of attitude by the Yemeni government towards their stay and reporting on Yemeni affairs.

Four foreign journalists were deported from Yemen on Monday, March 14. In an article released by state news organization Saba, a minister of information spokesmen denied that any journalists were deported while in the same piece, a different spokesman confirms that they were deported due to their, “illegal” stay in Yemen and “violation” of visa regulations.

While the four were not on official journalist visas, they were often emailed press releases by government officials and, on more than one occasion, invited to attend presidential press conferences.

“We were all personally invited to press events — including two in which we heard the president speak — by the spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in DC and by government officials. At all events, we were identified by our name and the publications we were writing for,” said Haley Sweetland Edwards, correspondent for the LA Times and one of the journalists deported last Monday.

Oliver Holmes, a correspondent for Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal was also deported. “We receive press releases and my presence in Yemen was known, as a journalist, for over a year. I have been to the Ministry of Information to register,” said Holmes.

Ahmed al-Lahabi, public relations director at the ministry of interior, denied that they has every informed the ministry of their work as journalists. “They were never invited to press conferences and they were never sent press releases,” said Al-Lahabi before hanging up the phone, refusing further questions.

All journalists deported were covering violence against the protests extensively.

Holmes, referred to as a “one man media empire” in Yemen by Foreign Policy Magazine, said that he was confident the journalists were deported because of their close coverage of violence being carried out against pro-democracy protesters.

A national security officer told the Yemen Times that Oliver Holmes and Portia walker, who were residing in Yemen on student visas, that their Arabic school complained to the ministry of the interior that they were not attending classes.

However no such complaints were made, according director of Cales, Abdul Fatah Shamsan.

“I knew Oliver personally and I also knew that he was a journalist, but we had no reason to complain to any authorities about him and never did,” said Abdul Fatah.

The other two journalists Haley Sweetland Edwards and Joshua Maricich were in Yemen on tourist visas.

Five armed soldiers forced their way into the residence of four foreign journalists on the morning of March 14th, demanding passports and mobile phones. They were then taken to an Immigration office where they were detained for hours before being transported to the Sana’a airport and forced to leave the country.

Joshua Maricich, writer, photojournalist, and climbing enthusiast, had been living in Yemen for over four years before he was deported. “They came in while we were sleeping, came into my room, and told us to pack our things quickly,” said Maricich, speaking from the airport.

Maricich also stated that the only reason given for their deportation was that it was done following “national security” concerns.

The four journalists, two British citizens and two American nationals, included Portia Walker, reporter for the Washington Post and the Daily Telegraph, Oliver Holmes of Times Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, Haley Sweetland Edwards of the LA Times and Joshua Maricich.

With only a handful of foreign journalists left in Yemen, native journalists have also been subject to harassment. The Yemeni Journalist Syndicate has recently received a number of threats of violence through emails and phone calls.

Joshua Maricich has called Sana’a home for more than four years and is longing to return to his old city residence. “I’m desperately trying to get back to Yemen. I’ve lived in the country for nearly four years, I love the country and its people, and my tower house in the Old City is where I call home,” said Maricich.


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