The War on Freedom and the Internet in the Midst of the Yemen Conflict

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The Arab ICT Organization (IJMA3) and the Arab Internet Freedom Alliance (Haqouna) are jointly against the recent monitoring, blocking and censoring of websites and news agencies in Yemen. The interference with Yemeni websites, as they are trying to report on the escalating conflict, is in contradiction with the Arab Internet Freedom Principles.

In a statement made by IJMA3, the dangerous deterioration of Internet freedom in Yemen is a severe violation of basic human rights, freedom of expression, and the right to access information.

In a joint statement, the Arab ICT Organization (IJMA3) and the Arab Internet Freedom Alliance (Haqouna) have publicly declared their opposition to the recent monitoring, blocking and censoring of websites and news agencies in Yemen (http://www.ijma3.org/news/newsDetail.aspx?newsId=3013). The interference with Yemeni websites, as they are trying to report on the escalating conflict, is in contradiction with the Arab Internet Freedom Principles. In particular, these moves violate the First Arab Internet Freedom Principle, which states that individual protection of expression is a basic human right, which is “not negotiable under any circumstances” and the Third Arab Internet Freedom Principle, which “guarantees Internet access without service interruption, prohibiting, filtering.”

Since the start of the conflict just a few days ago, according to an article published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "Media outlets raided and banned as conflict spirals in Yemen" dated March 27th (https://cpj.org/2015/03/media-outlets-raided-and-banned-as-conflict-spiral.php), numerous websites have been affected and news stations have been raided by rebel groups at gunpoint. According to the CPJ, the news stations raided included the Sanaa offices of Al-Jazeera, Suhail TV, Yemen Youth TV, and Al-Masdar, where gunmen kidnapped news professionals and stole computer equipment. In parallel, news sites were blocked, including Mahreb Press, Sahafah, Yemen Saeed, Yemen Press, Al Sahwa Yemen, and Voice Yemen, interalia. According to an article published by Andalou Agencies (http://www.aa.com.tr/en/world/484324--yemeni-isp-blocks-anti-houthi-websites) on March 26th, several journalists have stated that YemenNet, an Internet service provider in Yemen, is responsible for the blocking of websites. According to this same article, Yemen's Ministry of Information threatened to take legal action "against media outlets that were 'inciting tension.'" Despite this, Yemeni news agencies continue to try to report on recent developments. According to an article published by Yemen Press, "The Houthi Group Blocks News Websites," dated March 26th (http://yemen-press.com/news45165.html), the Editor-in-Chief of Yemen Press, Oussama Yehiya, confirmed that the site will continue to cover the news, and will temporarily rely on its Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/yemenpress) to reach viewers. Mr. Yehiya voiced his commitment to professionalism and neutrality in reporting the news, despite domestic pressure.

In a statement issued by the Internet Society Yemen Chapter (ISOC-Yemen) on March 27th, ISOC "condemns and denounces the acts of censorship that have recently targeted several Yemeni websites…. and urgently calls upon the Yemeni authorities involved to immediately unblock those websites." (http://www.internetsociety.org/blog/public-policy/2015/03/working-keep-internet-open-yemen). IJMA3 and Haqouna reiterate this message with respect to the dangerous deterioration of Internet freedom in Yemen and consider it a severe violation of basic human rights, freedom of expression, and the right to access information. They jointly call for the immediate halting of such practices and believe that all Yemenis have the rights to express their opinions via the Internet, particularly during such a critical period of events, as the Internet is an essential channel of communication between Yemenis.

About IJMA3
IJMA3 (The Arab ICT Organization) is an international non-governmental non-profit organization established in 2004 and headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon and consists of a consortium of more than 19 national ICT association members from 15 countries across the MENA region. As the regional voice of the ICT industry, IJMA3 is dedicated to advocating policies that advance the industry's growth and development; facilitating international trade and investment in ICT products and services.

About the Arab Internet Freedom Alliance
The Arab Internet Freedom Alliance is a regional coalition formed by the member states Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Tunisia that met due to believing in the importance and vitality of Internet after its use has become closely associated with human rights, economic growth, and one of the essential human renewable knowledge and living needs. It plays the role of monitor accordingly with the alliances in each of the five countries, and acknowledges the necessity of establishing a legislating framework regarding organizing each country’s users’ dealing with the Internet, committing to the importance of protecting the internet users, without touching or derogation of any of their rights to access the service, and recognizing the right of some community segments to have special attention to access and make use of the Internet.

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