Friday, April 26, 2019

Why is supporting Yemeni journalists important?

With Yemeni activist and lawyer, Huda al-Sarari at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, 2017.

I was very delighted to hear the news that Yemeni activist and lawyer, Huda al-Sarari won the 2019 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity for her brave activism and speaking out against the torture in secret prisons in Southern Yemen. The Aurora Prize, awarded on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, is an annual international humanitarian award recognizing individuals or organizations for humanitarian work.

It's such a bittersweet moment for Huda - who I have the fortune to call her a friend - because the award comes less than a month after the passing of her teenager son in Aden following a serious bullet injury he sustained during a violent protest in Aden in March this year.

Huda has done outstanding work under extremely difficult conditions. While documenting cases of grave human rights abuses in secret prisons in the south of Yemen, Huda faced death threats, harassment and brutal defamation campaign. Referring to the danger Huda has been subjected to, the Aurora Prize cites a Middle East Eye-feature titled "Yemeni woman activist refuses to give up following death threats" that I authored in 2017 about Huda's work.

A demonstration in Aden demanding "Justice for the prisoners and justice for the innocent" with pictures of those detained held up (Photo courtesy of Huda al-Sarari).

I've been working as a journalist for more than a decade, experiencing work as a full-time staff reporter and as an independent freelance journalist. The latter type has been the most difficult because it has so many challenges.

Writing that piece about Huda was very important for me but it took so long time until my editors were convinced about the significance of the story. Very often, like what happened while pitching this story, I'd spend 70% of my time convincing some of my editors. Meaning, the process of writing one feature, like the one about Huda, won't only consist of writing the story. No. I'd need so long time (days or weeks) to convince my editor to approve commissioning the story - and then, I'd start writing. That often leads to an extreme delay in getting the story out and burning me out.

I am so so happy that Huda is receiving this recognition as it also makes me feel happy that my perseverance in pushing for her story to be out didn't go in vain.

Yemen isn't underreported in media just like that. It's underreported partially because there is a deliberate decision to ignore it - and dismiss its people's stories. I have so many stories about many Yemenis doing great things but I am frustrated with how I must push so hard to get just one story out, like Huda's story.

I am also fortunate to have some of the most supportive and understanding editors whom I cherish very much. Thank you so much, guys.

I think it's important for editors and publications to believe, trust and support Yemeni journalists who typically would bring untold stories about their community so people like Huda could also receive the recognition they deserve.