Journalists in Yemen are being silenced, whilst the West holds its hands over its eyes.
In 2019, Reporters Without Borders released a report covering international journalistic freedom, in which Yemen placed 168th out of 180 countries. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2015 a gut-wrenching total of at least 20 journalists have disappeared. Many journalists have attempted to flee their homes, and in some cases leave the country, whilst the remaining few desperately attempt to lay low.
Yet, despite all of this, examples of Western coverage of their treatment, as well as the country’s civil war, are few and far between. Yemen’s conflict has been regarded by Amnesty International as the “forgotten war”, and has also been described as the worst humanitarian crisis currently in the world. But, how can something be forgotten when no one noticed it in the first place? With writers on home soil facing persecution or worse, and foreign reporters meeting stifled access to the country, the conflict in Yemen is not forgotten, but concealed.
There have been overwhelming circumstances of Yemeni journalists facing significant mistreatment; 10 men have been held since 2015, and in 2018 they were charged with multiple offences, including spying and aiding the southern Saudi coalition. Amnesty International reported that, “over the course of their detention, the men have been forcibly disappeared, held in intermittent incommunicado detention, been deprived of access to medical care and suffered torture and other ill treatment”. Many of these men worked with online news outlets that associated with the government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who the Iran-aligned Houthi organisation ousted in 2014. Rights groups internationally have accused not only the Houthi forces for the detentions of these journalists, amongst others, but all parties involved in the conflict.
The detainment and treatment of these men highlights the turbulent political atmosphere present for both civilians and journalists within the country, which has been looming for the last five years. Writing with complete neutrality in Yemen has become undeniably intricate. Journalists are being targeted not only by the northern Houthi forces, but from the south as well. What’s more, foreign journalists attempting to enter the country find themselves trying to acquire permission to do so from both sides. As a result of this, countless stories are struggling to break through the country’s borders: stories of people dying from shelling, disease, starvation, dehydration, and lack of medical care. Because those who should be telling us are unable to do so.
Today, 20 million civilians in Yemen are facing food insecurity, with half of them suffering from extreme hunger, as well as lacking access to basic services and needs. The gruelling conflict between the Government and Houthi forces has left tens of thousands injured or dead, which does not include the 17,700 civilians that have been confirmed dead on top of this. The scale of this tragedy is undeniably horrific, yet it continues to struggle to reach mainstream media with the dominance it should have received over the last five years.
It is hard to objectively point fingers at who we should turn to in order to bring these stories to the public eye. Of course, there has been reporting of the conflict here in the West, it is definitely not totally unheard of. Yet, sporadic coverage of a humanitarian crisis of this scale is simply not good enough. Particularly in-depth writings on the conflict have surfaced from NGOs, such as Amnesty International, but we should be holding our mainstream media sources to a higher standard; this is where the majority of Western citizens will be expecting to hear from. It is time to hold these organisations to account and demand they pay attention.
Stories are being kept from those that should be hearing it. The struggles of thousands of lives are barely documented, because the ones that should be telling us are unable to do so. The West’s silence is allowing these people to be forgotten; not just the journalists, but the civilians who are caught between this conflict. Ignorance can be bliss, but that doesn’t make it right. The suffering of thousands of people should not be restricted to white noise in the back of our minds, and our media. We owe them more than that.