Saturday, December 31, 2016

Yemen’s 2016, the Year of Massive Atrocities

For million of Yemenis, the year 2016 is certainly marked by the prolongation of massive atrocities; including the world’s apathy over the atrocities in Yemen. As 2017 begins, Yemen’s war enters its third year; and no end seems in sight for my home country, except more suffering lying ahead.

Yemenis could have found some glimpse of hope in the start of next year if they were not living under a blockade, if they were not being bombed at funerals, schools, hospitals, or if they were not dying in a slow death manner with preventable diseases as the health care system fell apart, or if they were not starving to death, or if they were not internally being uprooted from their homes, or even if their outcry was not falling on deaf ears.

This fills me with rage. My rage is one without scream or tears; it’s beyond me. How can one of the world’s poorest nations handle the hell of being caught between the Saudis’ power-machine and the Saleh-Houthi alliance’s aggression, as if life was not already harsh in Yemen? Even before the ongoing war in Yemen, nearly half of Yemen’s population were living under the poverty line. I vividly remember growing up in Sana’a and fantasising having milk and nuts which we couldn’t afford or having only yoghurt and bread for lunch for many years. Yemen was repeatedly ranked at the bottom in the Human Development Index. Yemen even failed to achieve decreasing the hunger rate, which was one of the UN’s millennium goals.

Today, the war has killed over 10,000 people since March 2015, in which one in three Saudi air raids hit civilian sites. Over half of Yemen’s 26 million population are going hungry. Health facilities are barely functioning with the lack of medical and surgical supplies. Every day passes, the human cost of the war goes higher, while no gains made by any of the warring parties. Or perhaps, the only result made is devastating the lives of million of innocent civilians caught in this raging war. These civilians are my family, friends and friends of friends.

I lost count of my relatives, friends and friends’ relatives who have died in the wake of the catastrophic humanitarian situation. I am even terrified of what the future holds. I think of my mother living in Sana’a who with the start of the war started to take half a pill of her daily one pill medicine for her high blood pressure because of the medicine shortage in the country, my aunt who passed away from cancer as the health care system in Yemen collapsed, and my best friend who weekly writes me as he got displaced from Sana’a to Taiz then to Aden and telling me how he’s surviving with only one meal per a day. They all ask, “why nobody cares about us? We’re facing hell in Yemen. What wrong have we done to deserve this?”

I know what wrong Yemenis have done. Our fault is that we are poor who are torn between saving our sick children or feeding the others, let alone of extensively televising and tweeting our tragedy like in other places, i.e. in Aleppo. Those who dared to let the words out are silenced; in the most horrific censorship case is that assassination of Yemen’s great investigative journalist, Mohammed Al-Absi ten days ago. This is well-explained by the fact that the Houthis are the second leading abductors of journalists in 2016 after the Islamic State. That is, Yemenis continue to suffer from a multi-faced evil. Our ordeal is summed up in Thucydides’ saying: “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

Fatigued by the war, we might not make it to the day when we realise human rights groups’ call for establishing an independent international committee that investigates the war crimes in Yemen - and presumably, later on, punish the war criminals. The devastation is immense and not all the atrocities are caught in cameras. The year 2016 meant a living nightmare for millions of Yemenis; facing a slow death in total despair.

The UN says that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one of the worst in the world, and Yemenis will tell you it is worse than bad - it’s hell on earth. Innocent civilians are trapped in unwinnable, pointless and endless war – the Saudis won’t ever accept a defeat by one of the world’s poorest countries and the Saleh/Houthis’ alliance would fight till the last drop of blood and won’t surrender ever. What’s even more tragic is that London and Washington keep ignoring calls of halting arms sales and support to the Saudi-led coalition that is enabling the killing in Yemen. Only a miracle can end this war. The year 2017 can hold an end to Yemen war if that miracle was realised - only if the international community’s morality and conscious were awaken demonstrating more efforts to stop the war and proving that Yemenis’ lives have a value.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Another Aden Bombing

A black day in Aden! The city mourned nearly 40 killed people today after a horrifying suicide bomber attack earlier today. North is ravaged by Saudi-led coalition air strikes & south is ravaged by terrorism. If anything still unifies the two regions, it is pain & violence. RIP!

Photos courtesy: Aden City

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yemen's war destroys lives - even beyond its own borders

Thousands have died and the economy has been derailed. For those abroad, including
embassy staff and students, that means no money.

*At the Yemeni embassy in Beirut, a DIY kitchen stands in the hall to the left. To the right, on the ground, a few pillows lay, leant on by a group of young men in their early 20s.

The young men are Yemeni students who have taken the embassy as a shelter for more than two years. I met them last month, but they did not hold any hope my interviews would solve their plight.

Nothing has improved for the students, even after Middle East Eye’s coverage last year; in fact, their misery has only grown larger.

The 76 students, some of their country's brightest, came to Lebanon on Yemeni scholarships in 2014 - but have received no financial support since. They were forced to go to classes and survive on their own in pricey Beirut.

With no financial support from the ministry and with families struggling with the raging war in Yemen, it has been impossible for the students to afford basic expenses including food, accommodation and medicine.

The makeshift kitchen for students in the Beirut embassy (MEE/Afrah Nasser)

Out of helplessness and protest, the students have turned to the embassy for refuge, and sleep in its empty rooms. The embassy has not been able to help them more than that - the embassy’s staff also have not been paid for nearly a year.

The humanitarian tragedy of Yemen war is not only seen in the raging famine in the country, but it is also felt beyond its borders. Yemenis dependent on stipends from Yemen’s public institutions are left to suffer.

Yemen’s economy has been in major decline, as the various rival groups fight over control of the central bank. Unpaid salaries for civil servants is the latest symptom - more than a million people have not been paid for three months, a situation that has had a catastrophic impact on millions of households.

Yemeni diplomatic staff have the same problem - whether in Lebanon, Malaysia, Sudan, Morocco or beyond. This comes after the Houthi-run Supreme Political Council, which controls the central bank, decreed that all embassies were their enemies and cut salaries.

Clearly, the economy has become a bargaining chip between the Houthi-Saleh alliance on one hand and Abd Rabbuh Hadi’s internationally recognised government on the other.

The embassy’s staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity stressed that it has been extremely difficult for the students and the embassy staff to file complaints to the “right” authorities, as there are a growing division and power struggle between Saleh and the Houthis’ newly-formed cabinet and the internationally recognised Hadi government-in-exile.

Both students and the embassy staff in Beirut express great despair.

"We were granted the scholarship because we were the country’s brightest students, then to end up in this agony is devastating,” said Ahmed al-Hamadi, a 24-year-old electronic student.

"Many students have mentally collapsed and some were put in jail because they were unable to afford the expense of renewing their student’ residency. From a bright student, you end up facing starvation and being regarded as a criminal."

No money, more problems

Students find it difficult to focus on studying when their empty stomachs churn, and the costs of accommodation and transport constantly haunt their thoughts.

Lebanese laws make it also impossible for the students to work. “It is illegal for anyone in Lebanon with a student visa to work," said Ali al-Ramim, 25, a mechanics student. "We could be caught, then imprisoned, subjected to deportation and a $5,000 fine."

All warring parties are blamed for the staff’s unpaid salaries and unpaid financial support to the students.

A photo of the students recently in the embassy in Beirut (MEE/Afrah Nasser)

“The division in Yemen’s government has also divided Yemen’s crumbling economy which should have been impartial, and we are the ones paying a high price,” one embassy staff member said.

“Today, when Yemenis are not killed by rockets, starving to death inside the country, or being displaced at a refugee camp in neighbouring countries or somewhere else, humiliation and despair accompany those who are abroad.”

“This war has caused horrific damage in every corner in Yemen, from Hadramout to Saadah and it also hunts those who escaped the war,” Mohammed Othman, 23, an electronics student said. 

*This article was published first in Middle East Eye, today.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Aden Bombing

Photo courtesy: Saleh al-Obaidi

ISIL claims the attack:

Heartbreaking. A man finds his son dead among the victims:

Monday, December 5, 2016

"As long as there are human beings there are stories"

Head of programme Jenny Wiik, students at MIJ and Afrah Nasser. Pictures and text: Kovuuri G. Reddy

*The media landscape is changing and re-shaping constantly with the internet in our midst. Internet is a platform for publishing and broadcasting not only for journalists but also for citizens (and netiznes). Because everyone is communicating online including the citizen journalists, the need for professional journalists has become acute and sought after. Sought especially by the independent and mainstream media in order to find and narrate stories that matter to the people in a compelling manner, and in the professional fashion that includes ethics and codes of conduct.

The first batch of students studying Master’s in Investigative Journalism(2016-2017) had completed the module ‘Investigative Journalism in Digital Environments’ and have started ‘Investigative Journalism Across Borders’ at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG). On 2ndNovember they had a lecture and Q & A session with Afrah Nasser, Yemeni blogger and journalist.

Afrah Nasser is also a human rights activist and strives to report on unreported aspects of her home-country Yemen (the poorest Arab country in the Middle East, and almost unnoticed by the Western media except briefly during the Arab Spring, and now the Guardian reports 'US Military members could be prosecuted for war crimes in Yemen'). Before seeking refuge in Sweden, she worked as a journalist in Sana’a where she faced in-house censorships on political reporting.

In a 2-hour session, Afrah Nasser focused on how ‘citizen journalism is shaping professional journalism’ by mentioning to the student-journalists from her experiences on Twitter and blogging. She is an alumnus of JMG, and did a thesis under Jenny Wiik the course director of Master’s in Investigative Journalism. From her experiences as reporter in Yemen to working in Sweden as a journalist, she explained the role of political regimes in the Middle East by mentioning Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and what the West can do, and cannot do for the betterment of civic and political freedoms.

In the era of ‘slow journalism’ and ‘fast journalism’ how to come to terms with finding a story and bringing it to the attention of audience?

‘Journalism is a literature in hurry’ and also there are platforms such as Twitter where not only words even ‘space between words and a punctuation mark count as a character’: the size of text or word count is becoming shorter and shorter, then how can one express a complex story in crisply condensed format? For Afrah Nasser, telling a story in few words and often in hurry is an art in itself. It is something that the journalists have to live with, and find ways for expressing.

Internet is bane and boon to the society. For Afrah, it is a boon because it is a platform for citizens in dictatorial regimes to report on censored subjects. She highlighted how internet’s social media websites have becomes source of news for journalists and for users to interact (like, dislike and comment). In spite of the rise in citizen journalism, she stressed that the professional journalists stand out from the crowds because they know (ought to know) the ethics, codes of practice of the craft: truth and accuracy (verification and validation), independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity and accountability. She advised the student-journalists to empower themselves by learning the professional codes and techniques of the craft as there are a range of tools (to record, film, photograph and publish and broadcast to bypass filters and censorships) at the disposal of journalists.

With my former MA' thesis supervisor, and the university lecturer, Jenny Wiik.

Everything starts with an idea: so is the case for investigative journalists, Afrah Nasser said. She said the students of Master’s in Investigative Journalism have the potential to make an impact with their stories not only in Sweden, in Nordic countries and in Europe but also in other parts of the world.

Irrespective of citizen journalism, and the infinite content produced on the internet, she said there is always a need for professional journalists: “I am always hopeful for the future when it comes to journalism because I think as long as we have human beings…they are vibrant, and living…there will always be stories to tell and it’s the role of the journalists to tell those stories.”

Photos & text by Kovuuri G. Reddy

*This piece was written and published by Gothenburg Univeristy's Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, following my lecture to 'Investigative Journalism' MA program students.