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Press in Yemen faces the Risk of Eradication

On World Press Freedom Day: 17 Yemeni journalists remain behind bars under inhumane conditions, one facing death sentence

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     The international community should stand by the Yemeni journalists in their distress in which they stand without any supporter against repression and abuse   Mwatana Organization for Human Rights – Yemen – May 3, 2017   Mwatana Organization for Human Rights said that the press and its institutions in Yemen have been subjected to horrific violations since the outbreak of the violent conflict in the country after the fall of the Yemeni capital in the grip of the armed group of Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in late September 2014.                                                                                                                                                  The patterns of violations and methods of abuse experienced by the press and its staff for more than two years varied between arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, raids over media centers, newspaper closures and confiscation, and unfair trials, one of which led to the death penalty. In its statement on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, "Mawtana" warned that the continuation of systematically violent and repressive practices against journalists and their institutions and means would lead to the extinction of the profession of journalism and the elimination of the remaining margin of freedom of expression that existed in Yemen before the war. The armed group of Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the forces of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh topped the list of violations of press and media freedom in the country. Ansar Alsharea Ansar Al-Sharea extremist group in Taiz governorate also took a repressive and hostile attitude towards the press and its staff in Yemen. Mawtana demanded the authority of Ansar Allah and its ally, Saleh, who has the largest record of violations of press freedoms, to quickly stop its violations against journalists and the press profession. It also urged all parties to immediately cease all repressive practices that threaten the work of journalists and limit their freedom. While it still detains 17 Yemeni journalists arbitrarily, including at least one journalist who remains forcibly disappeared for more than two years, and while those journalists were subjected to torture at varying intervals, the Ansar Allah and Saleh authorities have recently issued a death sentence against journalist Yahya Abdulraqeeb Al-Jubeihi, who has been detained by Ansar Allah in its prisons for more than seven months in Sana'a. On Wednesday morning, 12 April 2017, the competent criminal court in Sana'a, which is under the control of the authorities of Houthis and former President Saleh, released "a death sentence of journalist Yahya Al-Jubeihi for his espionage in favor of a foreign state" after a hearing that did not exceed 15 minutes, and where the lawyer of Al-Jubeihi was denied of pleading and access to any documents, according to information verified by "Mawtana". Mwatana Organization for Human Rights said that it has a sense of increased risks due to this dangerous precedent committed by the authority of Ansar Allah (Houthis) and its ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, by using the judiciary, which is completely controlled by them, for abusing and torturing its opponents of the staff of the profession of journalism and opinion makers. Radhya Al-Mutawakil, the head of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, said: " Defacto authority of Ansar Allah and Saleh should swiftly halt their violent attitude against press and press staff, and set free all journalists behind their bars without any conditions or delay.  Since September 2014, infringements against freedom of expression rapidly and frightfully escalated and Ansar Allah group has been dominant in this race, however this conduct of violations against freedom of expression has become shared by all parties to the conflict and their affiliated various. According to surveys conducted by "Mwatana" in respect of violations committed against the press profession and its staff since early 2015, 17 journalists remain behind the bars of Houthis and Saleh prisons, some of whom remain forcibly disappeared since March 2015. "Mwatana" also documented the killing of three journalists in air strikes carried out by Saudi-led coalition aircraft, two of whom were killed while they were being held in a building used by Houthis and Saleh's forces as a detention center in the governorate of Dhamar, north of Yemen. According to information and statistics, documented and recorded by "Mwatana" the authority of Ansar Allah (Houthis) and its ally, former president Saleh, has blocked access to at least 36 news websites, raided and stormed more than 14 media and newspapers offices, where during these raids, they seized and confiscated a lot of the properties in these offices, most of which owned by opposing media outlets, some of which are linked with the Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party (Islah). Given the scene of the escalating armed conflict accompanied with severely deteriorated security, "Mwatana" expresses its concerns on the general state of press in the country and calls upon all parties to the conflict to immediately cease their repressive practices towards the right of expression and the press freedoms in Yemen. It also calls upon the international community to assume its responsibilities in order to safeguard and guarantee the right of Yemenis to speak and express their views and to take deterrent punitive measures and actions against all parties and groups involved in violations to journalism and its staff in Yemen.\   Violations Leading to Death: "Mwatana" said that the last two years were the bloodiest and most deadly for journalists in Yemen, where journalists found themselves stuck between the fire and shells of various parties to the conflict. "Mwatana" has investigated about five incidents in which journalists and media staff were targeted while covering the news and performing their work in the field. On January 17, 2016, Al-Muqdad Majali, 34 years, a reporter for IRIN, was killed in an air strike by the Saudi-led Arab coalition forces in the Jaref area, south of the capital Sana'a. The journalist Al-Muqdad was wounded by a missile splinters during his field work in the Jaref area, which was hit by airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes. He died of his wounds before arriving to hospital. The other three, who were with the journalist Al-Muqdad.; two of them were injured: the driver Abdulbari Al-Sama'i, 24, and one of the residents of the area, Omar Sarub, 25, while TV cameraman, Baher Al-Sharabi, 23, survived any injury. TV cameraman, Baher Al-Sharabi, said to "Mwatana": "As we stood on the rubble left by the bombing, and after we had interviewed witnesses from the area, I've moved away from Al-Muqdad to take some photos for the place, while he was writing some notes, and the driver, Abdulbari Al-Sama'i next to him, I heard the sounds of flying warplanes in the area. I was sure that this place could not be bombed again, because it was totally destroyed, but a huge explosion threw me about three meters away, and then I was amazed to find Al-Muqdad and the driver, Abdalbari, both trying to help the other to stand up. Dust and splinters filled the place. We went to the car, which was away from us, and Al-Muqdad requested to be seated on the ground next to the car. He was seated, and I started to check his body, to find out the injury. He asked me to wrap his left hand which was semi-amputated from the shoulder joint, leaving only one vein linking it to the body". The driver, Abdalbari Al-Sama'i, who was also interviewed by us said: "We heard the explosion about 5 or 6 meters away from me and Al-Muqdad, while the cameraman was in a high place far away from us. We ran towards the car and I noticed a bleeding wound in my left thigh, I have wrapped it while running. Al-Muqdad was also running behind me, while bleeding from a small incision in his mouth, and his clothes were all stained with blood, and I noticed that his left hand was badly injured, and the splinters covering all of his body, and this is the reason why he died in the car on the way to the hospital. At 11 a.m. of April 16, 2016, in "Alhaseb" area in the city of Taiz, the journalist Ahmed Abdul-Latif Al-Shaibani was killed with a shot in the back of his head while he was working amid clashes between Houthis and Saleh forces on one hand and a group of popular resistances on the other hand. The journalist, Al-Shaibani (30 years), was working for 14 October newspaper and a reporter for Aden TV channel, and "Arab 24" news website. "When I and my colleagues Na'ayem Khalid and Nabil Al-Khadairi reached to Alhaseb area, we met Ahmed Al-Shaibani and he was accompanied by Abdulaziz Al-Dubhani," said Afaq Al-Haj, a media reporter for Orient News Channel. She added: We were in a mission for covering news on the fire that broke out in the plastic products plant there. We could not capture photos of the fire or to cover the story because of the heavy shelling and direct and constant sniping at everything that moves in the region. We had only one way to return from there through an open street in front of the eyes of the snipers stationed at Alaraneb hill, controlled by Houthis and overlooking Alhaseb area. Ahmed Al-Shaibani kept encouraging us to move quickly, so we crossed the street to the other side, and Ahmad was the last one of us. When I looked back, I saw him lying on the ground, covered with blood. Two of the resistance fighters asked us to hide in a building there, and they went to drag Ahmed, and they brought him with them. I could not look at him, while Na'ayem was calling him and begging him not to die. Ahmed was moved to the Alrawdah hospital in the city, where he died immediately upon arriving there. At the afternoon of 18 November 2016, the journalist Awab Al-Zubairi, 21, and his brother Aazem, 23, and their colleagues Hossam Al-Kulaia and Dawood Al-Wahbani, were documenting the damage to Al-Askari and the Al-Jahmaliah neighborhoods in Taiz caused by clashes that took place there. When Awab, a journalist with Taiz News Network, entered a building in the Al-Askari neighborhood, he trampled over a landmine laid in the building, which exploded and killed him. "Mwatana" interviewed his brother, Aazem, who stated: We were trying to document the damage in the middle of the Al-Askari area. We had to walk a narrow alley between Al-Razi Laboratories Building and Al-Munir Pharmacy Building. Awab moved first and he did not stop at the end of the alley, but ran to cross the main street as well, and when we, I, Hussam and Dawood, decided to cross the street, there was a huge explosion that left a huge smoky cloud that obscured the vision. I could not believe that the explosion led to the collapse of an entire building. I was looking for a Awab, and when I did not find him, I started to scream: Awab! Awab! My brother! ... people started to gather, and after searching under the rubble, they pulled his body out of there, while his blood was mixed with dirt. He paused a little; and then resumed talking: The pain of losing Awab is still hovering over us, particularly my mother. She is experiencing a very bad psychological condition. According to eyewitnesses interviewed by "Mwatana", this incident occurred as a result of the explosion of a landmine network that was laid in the building that Awab entered, which led to the collapse of the entire building. In the same context, the journalist Mohammed Al-Absi died on Tuesday of 20 December 2016, in mysterious circumstances. On February 2, 2017, the report of the Forensic Pathologist revealed that the death of the investigative journalist, Mohammad Abdo Al-Absi, 35, was "caused by the presence of Carboxyhemoglobin substance in the blood with a percentage of 65%, caused by the inhalation of carbon monoxide gas at a lethal amount. "Mwatana", altogether with Al-Absi family, had previously issued a statement with calling on the concerned authorities to start a transparent and independent investigation into the circumstances of his death, in order to reveal all the reasons and circumstances surrounding the incident. Detention and Causing the Death of Two Journalists by Airstrike The two journalists, Abdullah Kabel, 25, and Yosuf Alaizari, 26, were killed on May 21, 2015 in an airstrike by the coalition warplanes targeted the hotel building where the Houthis detained the two journalists over the top of Harran mountain after being detained in the governorate of Dhamar. They were arrested at a checkpoint of the Republican Guard on Wednesday morning, May 20, 2015 in the downtown of the city of Dhamar, north of Yemen, while they were returning from a media coverage of a tribal event opposing to Houthis in Zarajh area, district of Alhada, governorate of Dhamar. Kabel worked as a reporter for Suhail TV Channel, while Alaizari was working as a reporter for Yemen Youth Channel, both of them are local channels opposing to Houthis. One of the detainees who survived the bombardment, and who was with Kabel and Alaizari since the very moment of their arrest until the moment of the airstrike, which left both of them killed with other detainees who were in the place, told "Mwatana" about the incident. He said to "Mwatana" that he was with Alaizari and Kabel at 9 am on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 to cover an event, and upon their return, they were stopped by a checkpoint controlled by forces loyal to Saleh and Houthis located opposite to Dhamar University. He added: "We were forced to step out of the car in a humiliating manner, and they blindfolded our eyes and took us to underground rooms in a building located at Harran mountain, it was around 12 noon. The doors were closed. After half an hour, two persons stepped in the room and saying that we are informers. At 4 pm one of them stepped in the room with a notebook in his hands, and started to record our personal data (name, address, work, codes of our mobile phones), and after that, we saw no one and we were not called for investigation. The next day, Thursday, May 21 2015, at the afternoon, we were knocking on the doors and screaming, but no one replied to us. At 4:30 pm, we heard the sound of warplanes and we were in a terrifying state. I and Kabel elevated Alaizari to take a look through the small window of the basement and he told us that there is no one. After the first airstrike, which targeted an adjacent building, we moved to the door of the room we were in, and moments later, we were hit by the second airstrike. I was under the rubble unable to move, calling on the others but no answer. I was kept stuck under the rubble for more than an hour until I heard the voices of persons who later I knew that they were working at the Red Crescent. They told me that the others had died in the attack. Brother of the journalist Kabel talked to "Mwatana", saying: One of the persons who were with Kabel and Alaizari in the same car; and Houthis allowed him to leave with two others, has called me and he said that he tracked the Houthis military vehicle that took Kabel, Alaizari and another third person until we reached Harran mountain. At the same day, around 2:30 pm, we tried to visit the place of detention in Harran mountain, but the Houthis did not allow us to enter the area as it is a military zone as they said. The Huthis denied the presence of detainees in that area and swore to us that Abdullah Kabel is in a safe place and that he is not detained in this place. There were increasing rumors that the place might be targeted with bombardment, perhaps because it is used for weapons storage, according to news prevailed among the people at that time. I and relatives of Alaizari visited all all police stations and prisons in the city and did not find them. He added: The day after the bombardment, we went to Dhamar Hospital to find out the victims, and we found one of the survivors, who was in a difficult condition. He told us that he was being detained with my brother Abdullah Kabel and Yusuf Alaizari in an underground room in Harran mountain. Consequently, I, with Alaizari family, again went to the place with heavy machinery to remove the rubble and drag the remaining bodies, but the Houthis guarding the place prevented us from entering the place, where from the day of the airstrike on Friday until Monday, they did not allow the heavy machinery to access into the place to remove the rubble, and only allowed the medical crews to reach the place. On Monday, 25 May 2015, after the communication and pressure on the Houthis leaders, and after communication with the governor, heavy machinery was permitted to access into the place to lift the rubble. After searching for hours, I received a call at around 5:30 pm to inform me that they found the body of my brother Abdullah, and that I must go to Dhamar Hospital to identify the body. At the evening, we have identified the body there and took it with us. On Tuesday, 26 May 2015, at 7 pm, the body of journalist Yusuf Alaizari was identified. Both were buried at the afternoon of Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Marwan Damaj, Secretary General of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, has confirmed to "Mwatana" that the Syndicate has contacted with some Houthis leaders when it has known about the place of detention of Kabel and Alaizari and asked the Houthis group not to detain them in that place. The Syndicate held the Houthis responsible for the killing of both Kabel and Alaizari. At a time when "Mwatana" expressed its deep regret and shock at the killing of the two journalists, the organization held Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the coalition forces responsible for the killing of the two journalists, calling for an independent and transparent investigation revealing the circumstances of this crime, particularly after "Mwatana" obtained witness statements claiming that the Houthis used the detention facility as a military barracks. Given the serious violations committed against journalists in Yemen, "Mwatana" organization repeats the advocacy of the international community to establish an independent international commission to document and investigate the violations committed in Yemen, which constitute a flagrant violation of international law, particularly the incidents of the killing of journalists.   Arbitrary Detention and Enforced Disappearance: "Mwatana" expresses its concerns on the situation of journalists detained in Yemen by various groups and organizations and calls for immediately release of detained and forcibly disappeared journalists without any delay that may endanger their lives. In its report, "They Are Not Here", "Mwatana" documented dozens of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances carried out by Ansar Allah (Houthis) and its ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, against civilians in seven Yemeni governorates, including 10 journalists. In the same report, "Mwatana" demanded Houthis and former President Saleh the immediate release of 9 journalists who were arbitrarily detained behind the bars of the prisons run by the authorities of the two allies, and to reveal the fate of the journalist Wahid Al-Sufi, 41, who still remains forcibly disappeared since 6 April 2015. However, Houthis and Saleh paid no attention to these appeals and demands, but maximized their repressive practices towards journalists, where the number of journalists detained arbitrarily in Houthis prisons increased to 17, as documented and verified by "Mwatana".   Detained Journalists: Abdulkhaliq Imran (32 years), Hisham Saleh Tarmoum (28 years), Harith Hameed (28 years), Akram Al-Walidi (32 years), Issam Balghith (27 years), Hisham Abdulmalik Saeed Al-Youssefi (26 years) ), Haitham Al-Shehab (26 years), Hassan Abdullah Anab (38 years), Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri (31 years), Salah Al-Qaidi (30 years), Wahid Al-Sufi (41 years), Hussein Saad Al-Essi (40 years), Abdullah Al-Munifi (39 years), Yousef Hamoud Mohsen Ajlan (28 years), Yahya Abdulraqeeb Al-Jubeihi (62 years), Tayseer Al-Sama'i (40 years) and Mohammed Abdulmalik Al-Salwi (36 years). "The continued arbitrary detention of journalists for more than two years without charge or trial comes in the context of strangling the press and media freedoms by Houthis and Saleh, and the eradication of any voice inconsistent with their public discourse," said Radhya Al-Mutawakil. As documented by "Mwatana", in January 2017, the journalist, Taysir Al-Sama'i, 40, was arrested by Ansar Allah (Houthis) when he was on his way to get his child to school from his home in the village of Dakadek in the district of Dimnat Khadair, the governorate of Taiz. Two masked gunmen took him on a motorcycle to a military checkpoint controlled by Ansar Allah (Houthis). He was held there until evening of that day before he was moved to the "Al-Saleh City" detention center outside the city of Taiz. Taysir was kept in "Al-Saleh City" detention center for two months, and later, he was moved to a detention center in the governorate of Dhamar, where nothing was known about him since then. "Mwatana" has investigated the abduction of Jamil Al-Samet, a journalist in Al-Wahdawi newspaper. On Saturday morning, 18 March, 2017, in the city of Taiz, Al-Samet was abducted by Proponents of Sharia. As he was leaving his house, he was astounded with three masked gunmen in civilian clothes presenting to him a compulsory subpoena order to the office of Proponents of Sharia located in Al-Sameel market in the district of Al-Qahirah, one of the districts of the city of Taiz, against the backdrop of a press report published by him about the closure of the Republican Hospital. Journalist Jamil Al-Samet, 47, said to "Mwatana": They interrogated me for pointing to them in my report as responsible for the closure of Al-Jamhouri Hospital, that I have deliberately defamed their group and that I must disclose the sources of information contained in the report. I have refused to do that, until social and political figures intervened, and I was released after thirty hours of detention. "Mwatana" has documented two cases at least, in which two journalists were abducted by militias and Jihadi groups affiliated with the so-called popular resistance in the city of Taiz. These cases were surrounded by reservations, since the abductees are still at risk, either because they are still in the prisons of the abductors or working in areas under the control of those groups. "Mwatana" calls on all armed groups to release the detained journalists, to reveal the fate of those who have been forcibly disappeared, to lift their hands off press freedoms and not to endanger journalists, as their practices are considered a flagrant violation to the international human rights law and to all international covenants and conventions.   Torture: "Mwatana" organization received information from credible sources that some of the journalists detained in the detention centers of the Ansar Allah (Houthis) and its ally, former President Saleh, were assaulted, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and that the patients were denied access to proper medical care. "Mwatana" has interviewed Tawfik Al-Mansouri, 29, and Abdulkhaliq Imran, 30, at Al-Thawra Remand Prison in Sana'a along with seven other journalists. Al-Mansouri and Imran appeared with very pale, thin and weak bodies, and with deep eyes and long beards, and their voices were too flimsy. On being subjected to torture, they said: Our hands were tied behind our backs, and then we were hung up to the roof for a whole day. The place here is cold and we see the sun only twice every six months. Press reports confirmed the deterioration of the condition of the journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, which require to expeditiously move him to the hospital to receive the necessary medical care. On 3 October, 2015, Mohammed Al-Washei, 30, was abducted by Houthis from the downtown of Dhamar. Al-Washei works as a reporter for some newspapers and news websites and is active in the information department of the branch of Nasserist Unionist People's Organization in the governorate of Dhamar. Al-Washei told "Mawtana" saying: the time was approaching to evening when I left the headquarters of the Nasserist Unionist People's Organization branch in Dhamar to go to my home. As I was attempting to stop a motorcycle to take me home, I was astounded with a gunman putting his rifle in my back and asking the motorcycle driver to go silently to Alwahdah police station, which is under the control of Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the forces of former President Saleh, on the pretext of receiving a communication against me. Al-Washei added: The investigation began with accusing me with many unfair charges against me, such as betraying the country and working in favor of abroad, inciting the revolution, supporting the legitimacy of President Hadi, providing the coalition forces with the coordinates, recruiting fighters to Mareb, having relations with the resistance, and managing pages on social networks that oppose the Houthis and defaming the leaders of Ansar Allah. When I said that these charges are incorrect, the interrogator angrily stood up and closed the record. He then threatened me to move me to a location which could be targeted by the coalition bombardment. He reminded me of the fate of my colleagues Kabel and Alaizari (The press is a black era under Houthis), or to the fighting fronts, or putting me in a cell reserved for lunatic persons.. The journalist Al-Washei was subjected to torture three times, where batons and metal bars were used to hit him. Al-Washei said: My right leg has been crushed, my right elbow has been broken, and there are tumors and black spots after blood clotting in all parts of my body. They have made me bedridden to this day.   Judiciary as a Tool for Abuse and Expanding Intimidation: Mwatana Organization For Human Rights said that it has a sense of increased risks due to this dangerous precedent committed by the authority of Ansar Allah (Houthis) and its ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, by using the judiciary, which is controlled by them, for abusing and torturing its opponents of the staff of the profession of journalism and opinion makers. On Wednesday morning, 12 April 2017, the competent criminal court in Sana'a, which is under the control of the authorities of Houthis and former President Saleh, released "a death sentence of journalist Yahya Al-Jubeihi for his espionage in favor of a foreign state" after a hearing that did not exceed 15 minutes, and where the lawyer of Al-Jubeihi was denied of pleading and access to any documents, according to information verified by "Mawtana". "The death sentences based on unfair prosecutions are no different from extrajudicial killings in the event that they were carried out. She added that "Houthis and Saleh authorities must quickly retreat this dangerous behavior through which civil and peaceful activities are treated as crimes punishable by imprisonment and execution." Radhya Al-Mutawakil commented. The journalist Al-Jubeihi, 61, was sentenced to death after spending seven months in prison, along with two of his sons: Hamzah, 34, and Thou Yazan, 25, by order of the Public Prosecution. They were arrested from their home on 6 September, 2016, and they were held in the prison of the Political Security Service in Sana'a. Thou Yazan was released after around three months, while Hamzah is still in detention without prosecution. It is noteworthy that the competent Criminal Court is the judicial platform used by former President Saleh to suppress and crush the journalists and opinion makers opposing to him during his reign. In another incident documented by "Mwatana", revealing the use of the judiciary and its organs as a tool to spread panic and intimidation among journalists, the Prosecution Office for Public Funds in Sana'a summoned 14 journalists and staff members of the Al-Thawra Foundation for Press, Printing and Publishing to appear before it on 29 April 2017, on allegations of corruption-related charges. "Mwatana" obtained a copy of the "subpoena order" memorandum, which was prepared by the Public Funds and Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office on 17 April, 2017.                                                     Jamil Mufarah, deputy editor of Al-Thawra newspaper issued by the foundation, and one of the journalists summoned by the public prosecution, said to "Mwatana": The public prosecution has summoned us because we have organized protest sit-ins, in which we demanded the payment of our salaries and financial dues. According to Mufarah, summoning the 14 journalists of "Al-Thawra" Foundation by the public prosecution is not the first arbitrary action taken against the staff of this foundation, where he added: in December 2015, I was dismissed, along with 13 journalists, by Ansar Allah (Houthis) from the main posts at Al-Thawra Foundation, where I was occupying at that time the position of deputy editor, and we were replaced with other staff recruited by Houthis from outside the foundation. They have no experience, either administrative or financial, and they have no press background. Mufarah said: the financial dues we demanded for is only an incentive not exceeding YR 5,000 per employee, that is, we work for YR 130 a day, as it is known that our salaries are suspended similar to salaries of other state employees. The leadership of the Al-Thawra Foundation, appointed by Houthis, had called for military and security forces intervention to break up a sit-in organized by the journalists and employees to demand their rights. It has also suspended more than 25 journalists of their work for the same reason.. In this context, "Mwatana" calls on Houthis and its ally, Saleh, to cease using the judiciary as a means to intimidate the journalists and opinion makers, and to stop their exclusionary measures against journalists. "Montana" perceives that the increased violations against those working in the profession of the press are aligned in a context that goes beyond the oppressive attitude against the freedom of expression to serious planning to prevent any form of press work and the confiscation of any space for expression, which makes the press in Yemen in a dying state.
Wed - (03 May 2017) - Press Releases