Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Yemen: Saudi Forces Torture, ‘Disappear’ Yemenis

An anti-Saudi-led coalition rally by Houff district (مديرية حوف) residents in al-Mahrah, May 4 , 2019.
An anti-Saudi-led coalition rally by Houff district (مديرية حوف) residents in al-Mahrah, May 4 , 2019. © 2019 Private


Via Human Rights Watch 



Yemen: Saudi Forces Torture, ‘Disappear’ Yemenis
At Least 5 Detainees from al-Mahrah Illegally Transferred to Saudi Arabia


*(Beirut) – Saudi military forces and Saudi-backed Yemeni forces have carried out serious abuses against Yemenis since June 2019 in al-Mahrah, Yemen’s far eastern governorate, Human Rights Watch said today. The abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and illegal transfer of detainees to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi and Saudi-backed forces have arbitrarily arrested demonstrators protesting the presence of Saudi forces, as well as other local residents not connected with the protests, in al-Mahrah’s capital al-Ghaydah, residents told Human Rights Watch. Former detainees said that they were accused of supporting opponents of Saudi Arabia, interrogated, and tortured at an informal detention facility at the city’s airport in which Saudi officers supervise pro-Saudi Yemeni forces. Detainees’ families said that Saudi forces forcibly disappeared at least five detainees for three to five months while illegally transferring them to Saudi Arabia and not providing information on their whereabouts.

“Saudi forces and their Yemeni allies’ serious abuses against local-Mahra residents is another horror to add to the list of the Saudi-led coalition’s unlawful conduct in Yemen,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia is severely harming its reputation with Yemenis when it carries out these abusive practices and holds no one accountable for them.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed four former Yemeni detainees, two family members of detainees, and four friends of detainees, as well as seven Yemeni activists, five journalists, four officials with Yemen’s internationally recognized government, and a Houthi official about recent events in al-Mahra. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a document signed by the Yemeni government’s “secretary general for political security” for al-Mahrah about the detention of a person in al-Ghaydah airport and a short video in which a badly bruised man describes being arbitrarily detained and tortured at the airport prison. Activists provided names and photos of six detainees they said were forcibly moved to Saudi Arabia.

Human Rights Watch documented the cases of 16 people whom Saudi and allied Yemeni forces arbitrarily detained in al-Mahrah governorate between June 2019 and February 2020. Saudi security forces moved 11 of the 16 to Saudi Arabia. Five of them were moved in June to a prison in Abha, the capital of Asir province, after which families learned their whereabouts, their family members said. Before their transfer, the families received no information about their whereabouts for three to five months. The other six were men from northern Yemen arrested while crossing the border from Oman back into Yemen after receiving medical treatment there, said an al-Mahrah activist and two Houthi sources. The Saudis have released the other five whom they did not transfer to Saudi Arabia. A source also told Human Rights Watch that Omani forces detained a Yemeni man near the Omani border in September 2019, before releasing him after 10 days in detention. However, in a written response to Human Rights Watch, the Omani government denied that there are any Omani forces in Yemen, and that allegations of rights abuses by its forces in Yemen are “baseless.”

Four officials of the internationally recognized Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, former detainees and activists told Human Rights Watch that Saudi officers and Saudi-backed Yemeni forces are running an informal detention facility in al-Ghaydah airport in al-Mahrah. A document bearing a stamp of President Hadi’s office, dated April 2019, and reviewed by Human Rights Watch, refers to the detention there of a person arrested by the “central apparatus for political security,” Yemen’s domestic intelligence service.

Four former detainees said that Saudi officers were present during their detention and interrogation at the airport facility. Three said Yemeni officers tortured them, in the presence of Saudi officers, to compel them to sign pledges to cease protests against the activities of Saudi forces and their Yemeni allies in al-Mahrah and stop cooperating with Saudi Arabia’s opponents.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Rajeh Bakrit, governor of al-Mahrah, before he was replaced by Mohammed Yasser on February 26, 2020. Human Rights Watch also wrote to Yemen’s minister of human rights, Mohammed Asker; the Saudi-led coalition’s spokesperson, Turki al-Malki; and the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, inquiring about alleged abuses committed by their forces in al-Mahrah. At the time of writing they had not responded.

Saudi forces in Yemen are obligated to abide by international humanitarian law and international human rights law. They must treat people taken into custody for security reasons humanely, and if they detain someone on suspicion of committing a criminal offense, transfer them to the custody of the Yemeni government for investigation and prosecution. Torture or transfer to torture is strictly prohibited, as is enforced disappearance, the detention of someone without reporting their status or whereabouts. International humanitarian law prohibits (Geneva IV, art. 49) the transfer of detained civilians from their country to another state, such as Saudi Arabia.

“The Saudi and Yemeni governments should immediately release any Yemenis wrongfully detained or transferred to Saudi Arabia and investigate alleged torture and enforced disappearance by their forces in al-Mahrah,” Page said. “The UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen should also investigate these abuses, with a view to holding those responsible to account.”


202003mena_yemen_map
© 2020 Human Rights Watch




Al-Mahrah Governorate

Al-Mahrah governorate is in Yemen’s far east, bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia. It is remote from the areas of heavy fighting between the Saudi-led coalition, which entered Yemen in March 2015 to support the Yemeni government led by Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi against Houthi forces from northern Yemen, who had taken control of the capital, Sanaa, and much of the rest of the country.

Oman was the only Arab state in the Gulf region that did not join the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led military operations against Houthi forces. In a 2017 report, the United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen detailed the transfer of weapons from Oman through al-Mahrah to territory under the control of the Houthis and their allies. By late 2017, Saudi Arabia began deploying forces into al-Mahrah governorate and in November took control of the airport in al-Ghaydah.

At least since 2016, the Yemeni and Saudi governments have backed a “military police” security unit in al-Mahrah governate. The UAE unsuccessfully attempted to create a so-called Mahri Elite Force, similar to units it had established in Hadramut and Shabwah governorates as part of its “counter-terrorism efforts” in Yemen, which have led to rampant abuses.

The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen noted in 2018 that Saudi Arabia deployed its 123rd Infantry Brigade security unit to al-Ghaydah in November 2017 to improve security along this main supply route for commercial and other traffic. Former detainees, families of detainees, and activists in al-Mahrah repeatedly mentioned “military police” and “special forces,” along with the Saudi-led coalition and Saudi-supported Yemeni forces, as responsible for the documented abuses. Yemenis interviewed by Human Rights Watch used “Saudi” and “coalition” interchangeably to describe the security forces in al-Mahrah.

Beginning in May 2018, Yemeni community leaders in al-Mahrah organized peaceful demonstrations against the presence of Saudi forces, eventually establishing a group they called “the committee of peaceful sit-in.” Pro-Saudi media and the United Kingdom newspaper The Independent alleged that the Omani government has provided financial support to the committee.

During a demonstration in November 2018, pro-Saudi Yemeni forces dispersed protesters in al-Mahrah’s al-Anfaq area (منطقة الأنفاق) with live bullets, the sit-in committee told Human Rights Watch. Unconfirmed accounts by four officials from the internationally recognized Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, activists, and local press reports said that the Yemeni forces allied with Saudi Arabia killed at least two protesters and wounded another during that protest.

In April and August 2019, Saudi warplanes carried out airstrikes against checkpoints set up by al-Mahrah residents, according to residents and local press reports. No casualties were reported. On February 17, 2020, clashes erupted after residents prevented the entrance of Saudi forces in Shahan district’s Fujit area , according to local media. A message from the sit-in committee spokesperson to Human Rights Watch said that at least one protester was wounded. According to the Saudi-led coalition spokesperson, some members of the government security forces were also injured in the clashes.

In September 2018, President Hadi’s government reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Ali bin Salem al-Huraizy, al-Mahrah governorate’s former deputy governor and one of the founders of the sit-in committee. Al-Huraizy, who has not been arrested, told Human Rights Watch that the government accused him of destabilizing the region with calls for protests against the Saudi-led forces.

Arbitrary Arrest and Torture

Three former detainees said that Yemeni local forces supervised by Saudi officers abused and tortured them inside a detention facility in the airport in al-Ghaydah, subjecting them to beatings, electric shocks, and threats to harm their family members. The three former detainees said they were accused of ties with Lebanese Hezbollah and ties to Qatar, which has been in a prolonged diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and the UAE since June 2017. All of those interviewed are identified with pseudonyms for their protection.

A former detainee, “Bassem,” a journalist, said that local Yemeni forces allied with Saudi Arabia detained him in early July 2019 for about two months in al-Ghaydah. They took him to the local criminal investigation police headquarters (al-Bahth al-Jinai) (البحث الجنائي) for a few hours, he said, then to the airport, handing him over to Yemeni security forces and their Saudi commander. His Yemeni captors, “with the approval of the Saudi officers,” he said, kept him blindfolded, beat him, tortured him using electric shocks, and threatened to transfer him to a prison in Riyadh:

The Saudi and Yemeni security men forced me to sign a pledge to not do journalism work in al-Mahrah and not to communicate with ‘Iran-allied’ Shi’ite Hezbollah, Qatar, or Oman. I was angry. I went on hunger strike for a whole week demanding they hand me over to the public prosecution, but in the end they forced me to eat. At this stage, I realized I was in a prison run by the Saudi army in al-Ghaydah civilian airport and I heard a man scream in pain under torture in the next room. After a few days, they moved me to another prison in an unknown military base. In this prison, no jailer was Yemeni. No one. Zero. They all spoke with Saudi dialects.

Bassem said that interrogators told him that if he didn’t confess about his alleged links with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Qatar, and to the Houthis and Omani intelligence services, they would behead his younger brother, whom they had also detained. Bassem said he was later transferred to several detention centers: “I had inadequate food, and the last cell I was in was like a garbage dump.” He said he managed to escape in late August by digging a tunnel underneath the wall of the container in which he was confined.

“Hassan,” another journalist, said that Yemeni armed men with their faces covered abducted him from his hotel room in al-Ghaydah in mid-July 2019 and took him by car to the criminal investigation detention center, then to the airport prison, and finally to a place he was unable to identify. He said that throughout his detention, which lasted more than a month, his captors tortured him, using electric shocks, and beat him repeatedly. After his release, he tried to obtain surveillance camera footage from the hotel, but he learned from the hotel’s receptionists that the armed men who abducted him had disposed of the footage to prevent them from being identified.

“Farouq,” one of the protesters who had joined the sit-ins protesting the Saudi presence in al-Mahrah, said Yemeni security forces arrested him in June 2019 as he was passing by the airport. He was interrogated in the detention center there, first by pro-Saudi Yemeni forces and then by a Saudi officer. He said:

I was interrogated in a room by a member of the Saudi military. His military clothes and accent showed that he was Saudi. The officer himself told me that he was Saudi. He also told me that in the room there was a camera filming me and they can watch me live in Riyadh. He said that they knew who I was because they filmed me in the demonstrations and recognized my face. They tried to force me to sign a pledge that I, and anyone from my family like my siblings, wouldn’t participate in any anti-coalition activities. I refused to sign because, as I told them, our demonstrations were peaceful. The officer was verbally abusive. They took my phone at the gate so I couldn’t call my family all that time, for about two to three hours.

A source close to prominent tribal groups in al-Mahrah also informed Human Rights Watch of a case in which Omani guards in al-Mahrah’s Shahen district (منطقة شحن), near the Oman border, arbitrarily detained a Yemeni man in September 2019 after he refused to join anti-Saudi efforts in al-Mahrah. Omani authorities released him after 10 days. Oman denied allegations of any abuses by Omani forces in a written response to Human Rights Watch, and moreover denied the presence of any Omani forces operating in Yemen.

Forced Disappearances and Illegal Transfers from Yemen

Four Yemeni government officials, as well as three relatives of detainees and seven activists, said that Saudi Arabia arbitrarily detained and then illegally transferred at least five Yemeni detainees into Saudi Arabia.

The mother of one detainee said that Yemeni military police arrested her son in June 2019 at al-Ghaydah airport when he went there to register and find work as a guard. They later transferred him to a prison in Abha, the capital of Asir province in Saudi Arabia. She said she had no word of him for three months, and only found out where he was when he phoned her from Saudi Arabia and told her his location. The son remains in detention without charge.

Another mother told Human Rights Watch that Yemeni security forces detained her husband and their two sons in al-Ghaydah in June 2019. Saudi officials then transferred them to a prison in Abha. She said she knew about the location of her husband and sons only after they called her from the prison in Abha after five months. The three remain in detention without charge.

________________________________________________________

*Original link to report here. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Afrah Nasser: For the Sake of the Sun

The Yemeni journalist on chronicling catastrophe in exile.

by Meara Sharma in Adi Magazine





When Afrah Nasser was growing up in Sana’a, Yemen, “freedom” was an alien word, a Western concept associated with the erosion of traditions and culture. “More relevant to Yemenis is a life without oppression,” she says—a life marked not by violence, corruption, and poverty, but rather by a sense of possibility. It’s those aspirations that drove her to become a journalist, and to both cover and participate in Yemen’s 2011 uprising, which began as a peaceful, youth-led movement against an authoritarian regime.


In the face of death threats from regime supporters, Nasser was forced into exile in Sweden, where she’s lived for the last eight years, documenting Yemen’s slide into civil war, the overwhelming humanitarian crisis—some 14 million people are at risk of starvation and death because of displacement, disease, and famine—and the failures and complicity of international actors. Deeply connected to the home she left behind, Nasser occupies a vital position as a sensitive chronicler of both international diplomacy and the ground realities in Yemen. “Yemen experts tend to be 40-year-old academic guys sitting in New York,” she says. “Whatever I am part of, I always stress the agency of Yemenis. Talk with Yemenis, not just about Yemenis.”


Nasser’s reporting and analysis has appeared across international media. She’s received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists and has been featured repeatedly as one of the “100 Most Influential Arabs” by Arabian Business Magazine. Recently, she joined Human Rights Watch as a researcher investigating humanitarian law violations and human rights abuses in Yemen.


I spoke with Nasser over Skype from her adopted home in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she described how winter’s scant daylight casts an additional pall over her challenging work. Nonetheless, “a story of resilience” is what Nasser strives to tell. “I will make it, Yemen will make it. Eventually.”


Meara Sharma: How are you doing? Give me a sense of your context.

Afrah Nasser: I’m coping. I mean, Swedish winter is very harsh. It’s nonstop evening. Can you imagine that? Evening all day long. Then the nature of my work is about people in famine, people persecuted, detained, tortured. I spend most of my time talking to people on WhatsApp, whether inside Yemen or in the diaspora. It’s just so depressing. The weather is depressing, the work is depressing.

I don’t recommend Sweden at this time of year.


Meara Sharma: What are the big questions occupying you right now, as a researcher and journalist, but also just as Afrah, a Yemeni?

Afrah Nasser: There are multiple fronts to the conflict in Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis is absolutely horrific. But the main question is: how can we save Yemen from being a failed state? Ensure it is a state where basic rights are protected, where people can enjoy life without human rights violations and misery?

As someone who grew up in Yemen and is living in exile now, I’m pretty much dominated by the feeling of guilt. It’s like, I survived, you know? Survival guilt. And I see, from people inside Yemen, especially those who have access to social media, a tendency to say, “Look, these Yemenis outside, they’re not doing enough to help us. They’re enjoying their time.”
It reminds me that I have a responsibility from the outside towards people who are stuck inside.


Meara Sharma: What was the context in which you left Yemen?

Afrah Nasser: I was working as a journalist, and then the uprising started I became involved with that. We were a really tiny group of Yemeni journalists writing in English, so the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime and the pro-Ali Abdullah Saleh people tried to control us. I started getting a lot of online bullying, hateful comments, death threats.

Around then, I was invited to attend a workshop in Sweden. I didn’t have any idea of what Sweden was at that time. But I came, and while I was in Sweden, violence broke out in Yemen. My family was displaced from one area in Sana’a to another area. When I called them, they were like, “You can come back but there is a lot of violence and also, if you come back, you cannot write again.” My family, out of a sense of protectiveness, was threatening me, not allowing me to write again.

I couldn’t imagine myself not writing. I decided to stay here in Sweden. I became a political refugee. And the violence never ceased in Yemen.


Meara Sharma: You left without realizing that you were actually leaving for good.

Afrah Nasser: Exactly. I went through a lot of phases. Now when I look back, I just feel so sad. But I also think how courageous I was. I said, “Let me write here for at least some time. Then maybe I can go back, at some point.” I mean, my passion for writing and journalism became home.


Meara Sharma: You’ve been covering diplomatic aspects of the conflict, some of which play out in Europe, but you’re also in touch with what’s actually happening to people in Yemen. What’s it like to move between these realms?

Afrah Nasser: At some point I realized it was useful for me to engage with the international diplomacy aspect of what’s going on in Yemen, because I felt like there were a lot of misconceptions. For example, about Yemen being this land of al-Qaeda and terrorism. I think the real terrorism in Yemen is poverty and corruption. So I started to focus on the disastrous foreign policy from the US and the EU, and I found myself becoming a sort of ambassador for Yemen. I went around the world, talked with international actors, journalists, et cetera, and tried to connect Yemen to international politics.


Meara Sharma: And in those spaces, what are you trying to convey?

Afrah Nasser: Yemen experts tend to be 40-year-old academic guys sitting in New York, talking about Yemen. So in any talk, interview, article—whatever I am part of—I always stress the agency of Yemenis. Talk with Yemenis, not just about Yemenis. Let Yemenis be part of whatever Yemen project you’re doing. I think that has been the most effective way to combat misconceptions.

I used to wear a hijab and then I took it off here in Sweden. People would say, “Are you Yemeni? No, you’re not Yemeni. You can’t be Yemeni.” I’m like, “Of course, I’m not Yemeni to you because you never saw Yemenis before.”

In Sweden, there is something called Almedalen, an annual political week. This year they had three panels about Yemen, and none featured any Yemenis. I emailed the organizers saying, “Thank you for being interested in Yemen but it could have been beneficial to have insight from someone from Yemen.” I’m not necessarily saying me. There are many Yemenis in Sweden; they have the resources to bring someone from Yemen. Their reply was, “This panel was about the Swedish role in Yemen. So we felt like it wasn’t important to have someone from Yemen.”

I find this all the time. Many Westerners don’t give significance to people from certain communities speaking for themselves. Often in Sweden, there is a huge focus on “objectivity.” But it’s limiting. It’s not enriching.


Meara Sharma: How do you deal with this notion of objectivity in your own work?

Afrah Nasser: I’ll tell you about a journalism fellowship I had at the United Nations in New York last year. Longtime war correspondents talked with me about the psychological impact of covering tragedies and how journalists need a certain level of detachment from the story being covered. Of course, I didn’t totally believe in that. Steeling oneself against pain need not mean total detachment, particularly when the stories you cover hit close to home.

My fellowship at the UN was a bittersweet experience. On one hand, I got access to resources and connections to people that I would never have had otherwise. But on the other hand, I was ashamed to tell my friends in Yemen that I was benefitting from the United Nations, because they see the UN as having failed them.
During the farewell celebration in November 2018, I gave this speech and I told everyone my takeaway from the fellowship is that the UN Security Council is just a talk show. We only hear words, while we know exactly who’s responsible for the war and violations and sometimes war crimes. But we want to have a good time and talk and discuss and just show how we’re elegant and good with words and that’s it. What’s next? You don’t show the political will to take action and bring justice to these people, to the people in the conflicts. Take Yemen as an example, take Syria as an example.


Meara Sharma: What was the reaction to your speech?

Afrah Nasser: People were having drinks; it was a typical mingling, high-society kind of gathering. After I finished, a few women journalists came to me and said, “Thank you for saying that. We need someone to shake the system.”

Nothing happened, nobody followed me home and attacked me or something like that. I guess they accept the criticism.


Meara Sharma: As we speak, a new round of behind-the-scenes talks are going on between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. What’s your analysis of how things might unfold?

Afrah Nasser: Based on my interviews with people inside the government or close to the Saudi-led coalition, I think next year will have some good news for the Yemenis. It could be the year that the war ends. I think Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are interested in dialogue. Not necessarily peace talks, but de-escalation and reaching a political settlement.

But also as a human rights researcher and advocate, I think the aftermath is when the work really begins. There are multilevel violations happening in Yemen and it’s very, very critical to start the accountability conversation for those who have suffered most.


Meara Sharma: Yes—you’ve often stressed a need to understand the multidimensionality of injustice in Yemen; how domestic problems can’t be understood in isolation, but rather, need to be considered in light of international and regional policies.

Afrah Nasser: In hierarchical sequence, the powerful step on the weak. Western powers suppress or fail to support transformational movements in the region in order to preserve their economic and security interests; Arab regional powers step on poorer nations like Yemen for similar reasons; and Yemen’s corrupt political elites step on the population as a whole.

Take women as an example. In the Gender Equality Index reports, Yemen is always at or near the bottom of the list. And then, I’m in conferences in the West where we’re talking about gender issues in Yemen. But there is a big elephant in the room in these discussions about women’s rights, and that is militarization. And, how Western states are fueling the conflict in Yemen, how they are contributing to the devastation of a country. That’s one facet of modern colonialism.

Yes, Yemen lacks legislation protecting women; laws that ban child marriage, for instance. But also, Western policymakers, you have a hand in the political and military situation in Yemen today. If you stop fueling the conflict in Yemen, with your arms sales to Saudi Arabia, you would be helping the protection of women. International powers, regional powers, and misogyny in Yemeni society—how the tribal system works to oppress women, how the patriarchy dominates—each layer has to be looked at seriously. We need other countries to have a cooperative relationship with Yemen instead of just fueling conflict through militarism.

There was a Saudi diplomat at the UN who was stopped by a journalist. He was asked something like, “When are you going to stop bombing Yemen?” The Saudi diplomat started laughing and said: “What a strange question. It’s like you asking me, When are you going to stop beating your wife?”

That gives you an idea of how the Saudi understanding of violence against women influences their understanding of using violence in Yemen.


Meara Sharma: You’re saying we can’t look at violence against women and not connect that to the militarization of society more broadly.

Afrah Nasser: Right. Consider the story of Samira, which spiraled across Yemeni media earlier this year. She’s a mother of two girls who was kidnapped and shackled for about five years by her cousin, a man named Mahdi. Throughout, he was either trying to force her to turn over her entire inheritance, or trying to kill her.
Samira’s story reflects how the war’s assault on liberty has manifest itself in a war on women. Violence on a personal level, really, is a measurement of the well-being of a country as a whole. That kind of violence inside each Yemeni house is a product of the conflicts that happen in the country. Violence breeds violence. These cases, like what happened to Samira, are a manifestation of the cycle of violence that the country has endured year after year. That eventually will crack. But even if there are no air strikes or snipers anymore, citizens will have normalized violence with each other, which is, I think, a disruption that you cannot even quantify.

Meara Sharma: Yemen has become defined by the scale of the humanitarian crisis; indeed, the suffering is so extreme that the story of where this all started feels very distant. Where does the uprising of 2011 live for you, now? What kind of energy remains around forging a new political reality?

Afrah Nasser: From the grassroots, I think there is still a desire to be something other than what the Houthis are or what the Southern Transitional Council is or what the Saudis want to bring. There is a very different Yemen that we still can’t imagine or can’t see—but it wants to emerge despite all of these powers.

Yemenis want a life without oppression. This is what my generation sought when we joined the 2011 uprising. I remember how women filled the streets next to men, chanting slogans demanding the fall of the regime, the establishment of a civil state, a society where equal citizenship was guaranteed for all.

And even though the humanitarian crisis is massive, I think if it wasn’t for civil society today, the country would have collapsed completely. It’s the people that are keeping Yemen together. Take my mother as an example. In Sana’a, when the economic situation started to get really hard, she and other women started to mobilize themselves in their own neighborhoods. They started pooling money together each week, so that if a family had health problems or food insecurity, there was an economic safety net. This is just one tiny example, but it’s so impressive for me. People are mobilizing themselves in whatever means they can, and they are the core of Yemen.

Meara Sharma: You recently described how Yemen is fragmenting into many Yemenis. You said, “I know that whatever I’m missing is not there any longer.” What do you mean by that?

Afrah Nasser: Khalas! Rest in peace, Yemen that I used to know. It feels like it died.

I only have the memories. Most of my friends have migrated. My main connection to Yemenis are victims of violence or families of whatever story I’m writing about. There are neighborhoods in Yemen that are pancaked. My sister sent me a picture of our neighborhood and it doesn’t look the same anymore. Streets we used to walk on—some of them are completely devastated, completely destroyed. Even if you build them back, they will not be built in the same way that they were before. That Yemen is gone.


Meara Sharma: But even as you describe this loss, you also seem very keen on emphasizing how there is life, and agency. What is the story of Yemen that you want told?

Afrah Nasser: A story of resilience. Yes, it’s horrible what’s happening in Yemen, but we will make it. I will make it, Yemen will make it. Eventually. I can’t wait for the end of the war. I can’t wait to tell Yemenis, “You deserve to live a life with your full human rights protected.” I mean, I can’t wait.

And I know from history that it will happen. Life will continue. The more you learn about history, the less shocked you are about reality. You have to be empowered by history, I think. All I want is for Yemenis to enjoy life, to enjoy respect, to enjoy dignity.

Meara Sharma: Do you want to move back to Yemen eventually?

Afrah Nasser: Of course. I can’t wait to be back in Yemen. For the sake of the sun.

Meara Sharma: No more dark Swedish winter!

Afrah Nasser: Yeah. The sun is always shining in Yemen.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A critical discourse analysis of how BBC World vs. Al Jazeera English Constructed Yemen’s 2011 Uprising Coverage


After some correspondence, my previous university, the University of Gothenburg just published my MA thesis. Written in 2015, titled, "Discursive Construction in Media: A critical discourse analysis of how BBC World vs. Al Jazeera English Constructed Yemen’s 2011 Uprising Coverage" discusses how, in comparison, both online media outlets covered the first 100 days of the uprising. Every chapter is dear to me but I enjoyed the most analyzing postcolonial theories & their relations to Yemen.

2015 was an awful year for me as the war began. If it wasn't for the support of my supervisor, Jenny Wiik, I don't know how I'd have done it. I hope this thesis contributes to the academic world somehow. You may read it here: Link.

Picture: Abdulrahman Jaber. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Podcast: Investigative Journalists Speak Out




Early September, I spoke with TV & radio presenter, Sam Asi for the Golden Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Association podcast.
You may listen to the interview here or find the transcript below.



INTERVIEW'S TRANSCRIPT: HFPA in Conversation with Afrah Nasser




Sam: THIS IS SAM ASI FROM THE HFPA. TODAY I'M TALKING TO AFRAH NASSER. AFRAH NASSER A MULTI-AWARD, INDEPENDENT YEMENI JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER LIVING IN EXILE IN SWEDEN SINCE 2011 WHEN SHE FACED DEATH THREATS IN HER HOME COUNTRY WHERE SHE PRACTICED JOURNALISM SINCE 2008.

NASSER'S REPORTING ON YEMEN'S POLITICAL AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS HAS BEEN PUBLISHED IN INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS CNN, HUFFINGTON POST, AL JAZEERA, AND THE NATIONAL. AND WON SEVERAL AWARDS, AMONGST THEM: PENNSKAFT AWARD AND THE DAWIT ISAAK PRIZE AND THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM AWARD FOR THE COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS. 

IN 2015 ARABIAN BUSINESS RANKED HER AS 15 OUT OF THE 100 MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE IN THE ARAB WORLD, WHILE CNN HAS CALLED HER BLOG, ONE OF THE 10 MUST READ IN THE MIDDLE EAST. HELLO AFRAH. 

Yes. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US AT THE HFPA PODCAST. Thank you for having me. Sam: AFRAH, I WANT TO START WITH SWEDEN. HOW IS LIFE IN SWEDEN FOR YOU? ARE YOU ENJOYING LIVING IN SWEDEN AND DO YOU MISS YEMEN BECAUSE YOU ARE FROM YEMEN, AREN'T YOU? 

Well, there are some good and some bad days. I've gone through a lot of phases, and at this moment I am really missing the language because as you know, Yemen is fragmenting and into so many Yemenis. So, I know that whatever I am missing is not there any longer. So, what I miss really is the language. I realized from my travels around the Middle East that home for me is Arabic language. So that's what I miss the most. But Sweden is a great country really. I've had really, really wonderful friends here who have been more than a family for me. But you know, you can't help but miss some fundamental things like language. 


Sam: OF COURSE, LANGUAGE IS VERY IMPORTANT TO YOU BECAUSE THIS IS THE TOOL THAT YOU HAVE USED IN YEMEN SINCE A VERY YOUNG AGE. CAN WE GO BACK TO THAT AGE WHEN YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER INTO WRITING? HOW DID THAT ALL START? 

Ah, that's a deep question. I can't remember exactly my relation to writings, to writing and literature. But I remember that my mom telling me that she remembers that when I was a teenager telling her that I want to be like Negi Bafult [phonetic 00:02:51] one day. I'm born to be a writer. Trying to think and remember so hard. I remember that I had a lot of journals. Every day I would write. So, when I had my job at Yemen Observer and Sanaa when they hired me, I was overjoyed. I thought this will not feel like work to be paid.