January 26, 2008

Yemen Blocks News Portal, Not Jihaddi Websites

A notice on Yemen Portal.net advises: “YemenPortal.net is currently blocked by the authorities and hence is not accessible to the public in Yemen. Kindly refer to this LINK to find an alternative accessible link.”

Yemen Portal is Yemen’s first dedicated news crawler and search engine. It was designed by Walid al-Saqaf as part of his master's program at Orebro University in Sweden. The news aggregator was blocked by authorities on January 19, 2008 after including in its aggregation Youtube videos that showed recent footage of security forces shooting Southern protesters on January 13. Readers inside Yemen can’t access Yemen Portal, but it is viewable outside of Yemen.

On January 13, 2008, "Al-Qaeda in Yemen" released its first magazine, "The Echoes of Epics". The magazine was released to various jihaddi forums by the al-Fajr Media Center, the official online network responsible for disseminating messages from various al-Qaeda factions including Usama bin Laden and "The Islamic State of Iraq." Those jihaddi forums and their terrorist propaganda are still accessible on the internet inside Yemen.

What is not accessible to the Yemeni public is a wide variety of Yemeni news and opinion sites. These sites were blocked at the outbreak of the northern Sa'ada War in January 2007, unblocked after several months, re-blocked in July with the growing civil unrest in Southern Yemen. They were blocked again when Yemen released convicted USS Cole bomber, Jamal al-Badawi, in October. With increasing civil unrest in South Yemen and the resumption of the northern Sa'ada War, the Yemen Portal was blocked along with several news sites in January 2008.

The duplicity of the Yemen regime's pretense of democratization, and its non-existent counter-terror posture, is shown nowhere more clearly than in the fact that the biggest terror trial currently in Yemen is against an opposition journalist, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, who is charged with "demoralizing the military" with critical articles and may face the death penalty. Meanwhile convicted USS Cole bomber, Jamal al-Badawi is reportedly free despite a 15 year jail sentence handed down in 2004. Yemen Portal , a non-partisan information service, is blocked in Yemen while jihaddi websites remain viewable. Yemen has lost all its credibility as a reforming regime and is what it appears, a petty dictatorship in alliance with extremists to retain power. It should be dealt with as such.

It is worth noting that Walid al-Saqaf is the son of Abdulaziz al-Saqif, an activist who founded the English language Yemen Times in 1990. Noted as the father of independent journalism in Yemen, Abdulaziz al-Saqif founded the Yemen Times to help Yemen become "a good world citizen." Abdulaziz al-Saqif was killed in a car "accident" in 1999 and was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award during the Middle East Publishers Conference held in Dubai in March 2006.

The Austria-based International Press Institute (IPI) honored the independent bi-weekly Yemen Times with its 2006 Free Media Pioneer Award for "providing accurate and timely news and information and actively participating in efforts to support press freedom, respect for human rights, political pluralism and democracy." Also in 2006, Walid's sister, Yemen Times editor-in-chief and publisher, 29-year-old Nadia Al-Saqqaf won the first “Pulitzer of the Arab region” in December, the 2006 Gebran Tueni Award.

The Yemen Times reported: The (blocking of Yemen Portal) incident comes amidst an unprecedented systematic filtering and blocking of websites dealing with news and opinions. Another website blocked on the same day was YemenHurr.net, whose managing editor Imad Al-Jarrash condemned the act by the Ministry of Telecommunication and demanded in an official statement that authorities reverse the blocks and stop “messing with journalistic freedom”.

Yet another website targeted was Hour’s News (hnto.net), whose administrators circulated a mass e-mail condemning the act and informing its readers about an alternative link.

Other news and opinion websites that have recently been blocked are hdramut.com, Al-Teef.com, and al-yemen.org community forum. This is in addition to a host of other news sites blocked months ago, such as adenpress.com and soutalgnoub.com.

In response to the government censorship, Yemen's online journalists agreed to the "Combatting Internet Blockage Initiative", whereby the portal will publish the content of blocked sites in full. In response to regime threats, Walid al-Saqaf responded, “I’m fine with taking a risk if that is what it takes to ensure that visitors are able to access material hidden from them by the authorities. The people in Yemen need to know stories from both angles, and that is a fundamental right that the government should not take away from them," the Yemen Times reported.

Terming the current global ideological clash as a War of Ideas is a misnomer: it is a War of Information, and an asymmetrical war at that. On one side are dictatorships that seek to isolate and misinform their populations; on the other side are those who seek the truth and the freedom to speak and who battle that battle daily. SJTL

By Jane at 10:04 PM | Comments |