September 22, 2009 / 11:44 AM / 10 years ago

Yemen media protest arrest of third journalist

SANAA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Dozens of Yemeni journalists staged a sit-in on Wednesday in protest over the detention of a journalist thought to have been seized over his coverage of Sanaa’s increasingly bloody war with northern rebels.

Mohammed al-Maqaleh, editor of the opposition Socialist Party’s website, was detained last Thursday, website manager Khaled Abdel-Hadi said.

"Witnesses have told us that intelligence officers in civilian clothes stopped him late at night and took him to an unknown place. The authorities refuse to say where he is or what the accusation against him is," he told Reuters.

"The site was among the first in the media to publish news of civilian casualties in air bombing in Saada and we think he was detained because the government didn’t like the coverage."

The government has refused to comment on Maqaleh’s disappearance.

Wednesday’s sit-in at the journalists’ syndicate in Sanaa was also to protest over the detention four months ago of Fuad Rashed, editor of the site Mukalla Press, and Salah al-Saqladi, editor of the Aden News website.

The authorities said the two men had written articles in favour of a southern separatist movement that clashes with security forces a number of times earlier this year.

Media have felt pressure over coverage of both the southern and northern opposition groups, which have raised fears in the West and neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a major oil producer, for the stability of the Arabian Peninsula country.

Last week two army air raids were reported to have killed dozens of civilians, raising pressure on the government of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stop the war with Shi’ite Zaydi Muslims in the Saada and Amran provinces.

United Nations groups say around 150,000 people have been made refugees since the fighting began in 2004 and thousands are living in official and makeshift camps. The situation worsened after Sanaa launched Operation Scorched Earth last month.

The government says the rebels, known as Houthis after their clan leaders, want to restore a Shi’ite state that fell in the 1960s and accuse Shi’ite power Iran of having contact with them.

The rebels say they want autonomy, blame Sanaa for the spread of Sunni fundamentalism from Saudi Arabia, and accuse Saleh of despotism and corruption in a drive to stay in power.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; editing by Samia Nakhoul)

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