Launched on 6 January, Almashahid.net aims to provide independent news and human interest stories from inside war-torn Yemen to the information-starved Yemeni population
by Miki Mistrati – Your Middle East
Yemen, 9 January 2016, Nena News – “The first casualty of war is always the truth.” The words stare down from a whiteboard in the interim editorial office belonging to three Yemeni journalists in a secret location in Cairo.
The three journalists fled Yemen moments before they were arrested for “subversive activities”. Now, working in exile from their editorial office in Cairo, the journalists are preparing to launch a new website, Almashahid.net (The Viewer), which aims to provide independent news to Yemenis inside and outside Yemen.
“There are photos of us in the airport in Sanaa. The airport is run by Houthi rebels. They want to arrest us because we are journalists,” explains W.A, one of the three journalists behind the initiative.
Before fleeing Yemen to avoid being arrested like several of his colleagues, he worked as a journalist in a big media house. He is clearly moved by the situation in his country, where parts of his family still reside.
“Working conditions for the free press were already difficult before the civil war, but now as a journalist you are kidnapped, tortured and sometimes even killed if you write critically about the Houthis,” says M.N., who worked as a journalist on a magazine before fleeing Yemen and becoming a part of the Almashahid online news team.
Far from all journalists made it out of the country in time. In November 2015, nine journalists were kidnapped from Hotel Sahara in the centre of Sanaa. According to W.A., they were at the hotel because internet access had been barred everywhere except in the hotel. Shortly thereafter, nine journalists were kidnapped by Houthi rebels and they are still missing to this day.
“These are now the common, everyday working conditions of journalists in Yemen,” he says.
Almashahid.net is based on the principle of public journalism, meaning journalism practiced by “non-journalists”. This means that 15 so-called correspondents will be providing information and visual documentation from inside Yemen to the website through the editorial team working out of Cairo.
“This is of course an extremely dangerous task for all our people inside Yemen and for this reason we have ensured that all channels of communication with our staff are safe,” says M.N, who will be in charge of processing, editing and verifying the information received before it is published.
The civil war escalated and spread throughout the country in January 2015 after political instability and simmering violence had plagued the country following the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011. To the detriment of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who held office for 33 years, a new President was officially elected in 2012, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. For this reason, former President Saleh has supported the Houthi rebels while Saudi Arabia supports President Hadi. Also, Al-Qaeda is active in the southern part of the country and like the two main warring parties have no intention of allowing independent or critical media to operate. Nena News