The Interaction of Parties to the Conflict in Yemen with the Freedom of Speech (2014 – 2022)

The Interaction of Parties to the Conflict in Yemen with the Freedom of Speech (2014 – 2022)
The Interaction of Parties to the Conflict in Yemen with the Freedom of Speech (2014 – 2022)

The Interaction of Parties to the Conflict in Yemen with the Freedom of Speech (2014 – 2022)

Abdulrahman Hassan Mojamil

Wars and conflicts erupt anywhere in the world, and the first victim is the human being whose rights are lost and divided between the conflict parties' interests, as in Yemen, where the war has raged for more than eight years, and human rights have been subjected to the most heinous violations. Apart from few attempts, international organizations have been unable to prevent or mitigate them. The reason for this is that the conflicting parties act as an impenetrable dam in the way of international organizations' humanitarian efforts.

Despite it is a human right guaranteed by all international and regional organizations, national constitutions, and laws. The freedom of expression is one of the rights that has been violated. The Yemeni's right to express his opinion on any matter concerning his country has been revoked. As he sees the destruction of all his dreams due to the ambitions and interests of the conflict's parties. And if the Yemeni citizen ignores all of this and decided to express his opinion and dissatisfaction with what is happening in his country, he will be subject to accusations of collusion and betrayal. Exercising those right leads to enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and torture.

Based on the foregoing, this blog will shed light on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the extent to which Yemenis exercise this right in the context of war, referring to the legitimacy of this right in relation to international charter represented by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and finally the International Covenant on Economic and Social Human Rights. Similarly, the legitimacy of the right to freedom of expression is represented by the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights and the Arab Charter for Human Rights. More emphasis is given by following the National Charter of the Republic of Yemen represented by the Yemeni constitution and laws in its endorsement of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the points of difference between it and the regional and international charter. The report will track the practical practice of this right by the Yemeni people and how the parties to the conflict have dealt with it since the year (2014-2022).

First: Freedom of opinion and expression according to the theoretical aspect:

The theoretical aspect of this right will be dealt with according to three determinants:

  • The International Bill of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by various countries around the world and adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, by virtue of Resolution No. 217 A, specified that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." [1] Yemen is one of the countries that ratified this declaration on February 9, 1986, and accordingly, Yemen becomes committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that includes this right.[2]

Three paragraphs of the third part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 regarding freedom of opinion and expression state: “ 1- Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference; 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice; 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others. (b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.”[3]

The International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, which was approved on February 16, 1966 and entered into force on March 23, 1976, did not stipulate in its articles what is related to the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as it is not within its jurisdiction.

Yemen has ratified both covenants on civil and political rights and on economic and social rights on February 29, 1987.[4] Thus, Yemen becomes bound by both covenants and must abide by the articles contained therein, including the articles related to the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the International Charter guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression to all individuals equally and without discrimination, with the exception of matters related to the infringement of others' freedoms or the national security of states. 

  • The Regional Charter

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights singled out an article regarding the right to freedom of opinion and expression in which it dealt with the right in detail in four paragraphs, according to the following[5]:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as it is an integral part of internationally recognized human rights, and the exercise of this right entails special duties and responsibilities.
  • The state has a duty to protect and facilitate the exercise of this right while at the same time safeguarding its legitimate national security, preserving its interests, and promoting harmony, prosperity, justice and equality in society.
  • The exercise of this right is subject to some restrictions, but provided that they are specified by law and are limited to the following cases:
  1. War propaganda
  2. Advocacy of violence or hatred based on religion or belief, nationality, race, nationality, colour, language, gender, or socioeconomic status.
  3. Respecting human rights and not harming the reputation of others
  4. Matters related to national security and public order.
  5. The necessary measures to preserve public health and morals and prevent chaos and crime.
  • The state works to spread and disseminate the principles of fraternity, tolerance, justice, and other exalted values. In addition to renouncing all feelings of hatred and extremism.
  • Freedom of expression should not be used to violate sanctities, offend the sanctity of prophets, religions, and religious symbols, or detract from the moral and ethical values of society.

The Arab Charter for Human Rights, which was hosted by Tunisia on May 23, 2004, with regard to freedom of opinion and expression, emphasized the following[6]:

  • This Charter guarantees the right to media, freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to seek, receive and impart news and ideas to others by any means and without regard to geographical boundaries.
  • These rights and freedoms are exercised within the framework of the basic foundations of society and are subject only to restrictions imposed by respect for the rights or reputations of others or the protection of national security, public order, public health, or public morals.

From the foregoing, we conclude that the regional charter, as well as the international charter, encouraged and legalized freedom of opinion and expression. However, the regional charter, especially the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights, was more detailed, as it clarified the limits and restrictions of this right and the duties of the state towards this right.

  • The National Charter

The Yemeni Constitution of 1991 affirmed in Chapter 2, related to the rights and duties of citizens, the basis for the right to freedom of opinion and expression as follows:

“Every citizen has the right to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural life. The state guarantees freedom of thought and expression of opinion verbally, in writing and in photography within the limits of the law.” Amendments were made to this constitution in 1994 and 2001, but they did not affect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.[7]

After the 2011 youth revolution, and at the National Dialogue Conference, the Rights and Freedoms Team decided that “freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed, and every individual has the right to express his opinion verbally, in writing, photographing, drawing, pointing, or other means of publication and expression, and it is not permissible to imprison a person or journalist.” as a result for expressing his/her opinion, just as it is not permissible to coerce any individual to reveal his opinions, ideas, and convictions in any way.”[8]

After that, these decisions were reflected in the 2015 draft of the constitution in three articles related to the right to freedom of opinion and expression[9], which are:

Article 1: Every person has the right to freedom of belief, conscience, thought and opinion in a manner that does not contradict the Constitution, and it is a criminal offense to impose any opinion, thought or belief on any person by force.

Article 2: The right to express political opinions and choices is guaranteed to everyone through public gatherings, marches, demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins, and all forms of peaceful protests, without weapons, and by mere prior notification, if this does not result in damage to public or private property and interests, and to the rights and freedoms of others. Any disruption or derogation for these rights, in any way whatsoever, is prohibited.

Article 3: Everyone has the following rights: freedom of expression, obtaining information or ideas, freedom of literary, artistic, and cultural creativity, scientific research, and criticizing the performance of state institutions.

The Yemeni law on freedom of the press and publications confirmed in the second chapter under the general principles clause that  “Freedom of knowledge, thought, press, expression, communication, and access to information is one of the citizens’ rights to ensure the expression of their thoughts in speech, writing, photography, drawing, or any other means of expression, and it is guaranteed to all citizens in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and what is stipulated in the provisions of this law.”[10]

From the foregoing, it is clear to us that the Yemeni constitution with its amendments, the outcomes of the national dialogue, the draft of the new constitution, and the Yemeni laws all confirmed and guaranteed the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as is the international and regional charter. What differs from both is that it restricted freedom of opinion and expression within the limits of the law, by guaranteeing the public and private rights of Yemeni society. Violating the limits of the law remains the only justification for the authority against opinion and expression activists.

Second: Conflict parties’ interaction with the right to freedom of opinion and expression on the ground:

It is clear from the preceding that international law, regional law, and national law all guarantee, affirm, and stipulate the right to opinion and expression, and place no restrictions on it except in cases of infringement of others, violation of the law, or harm to national security.

These legislations had to be reflected on the ground and touched by society, whether individuals or groups, whereby they exercised their right to express their opinions and express them by any means without interference from anyone, whether individuals, groups or even the state. Rather, the state must protect this right for citizens, as it has approved and affirmed it in its constitutions and laws. However, there is a large gap, as is in most developing countries, between theory and practice.

Yemen is a living example of that bitter reality, especially since it has been at war since 2014, following the coup of the Houthi group "Ansar Allah" against the internationally recognized authority in Sana'a. Yemen was divided into three parts during this time, one of which was controlled by the internationally recognized government. The Emirati-backed Transitional Council controls one part, and the Houthi group "Ansar Allah" controls the third, which has the highest population density.

Considering this reality, people's rights, including the right to opinion and expression, continue to be violated and confiscated, even if the severity varies depending on the party. To identify the most egregious of these violations, we will examine each party's interactions with this right in the following ways:

  • The Houthi group "Ansar Allah"

As soon as the Houthi group "Ansar Allah" invaded the capital, Sana'a, on September 21, 2014, it began to practice the worst forms of abuse and persecution for everyone who stood in its way, intellectuals and people of opinions were at the forefront of those who got their share of that, so they were subjected to killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance and imprisonment. In prison, the most severe forms of torture were practiced, which lead to death, and the lucky ones were released after two to three to four years with a psychological or physical disability. This forced many influencers, journalists, media activists, and politicians to escape from that bitter reality to the southern or eastern regions, and those who possesses the capabilities, has traveled outside the country. From the countries of emigration, they play their role and express their opinions freely in a country that guarantees freedom of opinion and expression as one of the human rights that their rights were confiscated in their homeland. By using the social media as a link between them and their countrymen.

Some of the media activists remained inside, speaking, and expressing their opinions on topics unrelated to politics, for fear of what they might be exposed to if they did so. Indeed, many social media activists have been kidnapped and imprisoned simply for expressing their views on the issue of corruption that has affected influential people in the capital, Sana'a, and the justification for this was always (collusion with aggression) and betrayal. As for the citizens, they have become powerless. The method of intimidation pursued by the Houthi group "Ansar Allah" has paid off. On the contrary the air is always open to write and talk about the "aggression".

On the other hand, the Houthi group also left the door wide open for those who support their point of view, promote their agenda, and criticize other party’s hostile to them. All media platforms, including social media and television channels, as well as religious platforms in mosques and on various occasions of joy and sorrow, were used to serve the "Houthi Group's" purpose. No occasion has passed without the so-called "Aggression" being mentioned, the slogan being chanted, and the phantom achievements of the "Houthi Group" being lauded.

According to the SAM Human Rights Organization report for 2020, the Houthi group tops the list of perpetrators of violations against freedom of opinion and expression by 60%, with the most egregious of these violations occurring nearly eight years ago when the group arrested four journalists, "Harith Hamid, Abdul Khaleq Imran, and Akram Al-Walidi." Tawfiq Al-Mansoori, their enforced disappearance, and their unjustified death sentence, and the SAM human rights organization has expressed its concern about the implementation of death
sentences in the absence of seriousness from the international community in order to activate this file.[11]

  • The internationally recognized legitimate government.

The internationally recognized Yemeni government was not far from violating freedom of opinion and expression, but it was not as heavy as the Houthi group that controls the capital, Sana'a. Where the legitimate government deliberately prosecuted media professionals, journalists, and social media activists simply for their criticism of government institutions and public employees. This behavior was justified by the restrictions imposed by the laws, such as the prohibition of criticizing presidents, public figures, or the military establishment. Accordingly, the charge is insulting a president or government official, which leads to trial and then imprisonment of up to several months, if not years, in addition to charging them with financial fines. Among these practices is the arbitrary arrest of 3 journalists, in addition to 17 civilians, on February 18, 2021, simply for exercising their legitimate right to peaceful assembly and expression of opinion.[12]

Thus, the Yemeni government ranks second in Yemen for violators of freedom of opinion and expression, after the Houthi group, with a rate of 30%,[13] prompting Diana Samaan to urge the "internationally recognized Yemeni government to immediately end its harassment and prosecution of journalists and to respect their right to freedom of expression, noting It can begin on this path by discontinuing the practice of summoning activists and journalists to security and military services, as well as ceasing the use of criminal defamation and national security laws to suppress the opposition". In addition, the government must bring national legislation that restricts freedom of expression in line with international standards.[14]

Thus, we note that the difference between the violations of both parties is that the first party disregards the law in order to carry out violations against opinion and expression activists, whereas the second party employs the law and judicial authority to carry out violations against journalists, media professionals, and social media activists.

  • The UAE-backed Transitional Council.

It is the third party and the one that had a role in violating freedom of opinion and expression while it was not affiliated with the government and after it became part of the internationally recognized legitimate government. According to the "SAM Organization", the rate of violations of the Transitional Council for human rights reaches 10%,[15] distributed between assassination, forced kidnapping, imprisonment and threats were practiced against journalists and media professionals who oppose the project that the UAE-backed Transitional Council came up with, which aims to divide Yemen in order to serve the interests of external parties. The most prominent example of this was what the forces affiliated with the Transitional Council carried out on August 7, 2022, in the arrest of journalist Ahmed Maher. With his brother arbitrarily and forcibly concealed, then he appears through a video clip confessing himself of committing bombings and assassinations, and the SAM human rights organization indicates that these practices were due to his writings and publications against the Transitional Council and its supporters, stressing that these practices affecting journalists require international accountability, Demanding at the same time the need for the Transitional Council to release all detainees, especially journalists, with no strings attached.[16]


Journalists, media workers, and social media activists who exercise their right to free expression guaranteed by all international, regional, and national covenants face harassment from the conflict parties who see them as a stumbling block to achieving their interests, or rather the interests of their supporters.

Journalists, by highlighting the suffering of the oppressed people in this war to the international community, its people, and its institutions, provoke the international community against the parties to the conflict. There is no way to achieve this right and other human rights without the consent of all parties and by prioritizing the interest of the homeland over other interests and not at the expense of building a modern democratic Yemeni state that recognizes the rights and freedoms and guarantee them to all citizens what ever their titles or positions. The government must realize that what opinion and expression activists are doing is nothing but an evaluation of the government's behavior and not against it.


[1] United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article No. 19, https://2u.wpaCxN , seen on 1/29/2023.

[2] Report of the Republic of Yemen on human rights submitted to the Human Rights Council, May / 2009, National Information Center, , seen on January 29, 2023.

[3] United Nations, Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article No. 19, , seen on 1/19/2023.

[4] International and regional agreements signed by Yemen, National Information Center, , seen on 1/29/2023.

[5]  Cairo Declaration of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for Human Rights, Permanent Supreme Committee for Human Rights, Article 19, , seen on 1/29/2023.

[6]  The Arab Charter on Human Rights, the latest version, Article No. 32, , seen on January 29, 2023.

[7] Constitution of the Republic of Yemen 1991, Article No. 42, National Information Center, , accessed on 30/1/2023.

[8] Document of the Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference, Rights and Freedoms Team, Resolution No. 62, 63, 2013-2014, p. 191.

[9]  Yemen's new draft constitution, Rights and Freedoms, Article No. 82, 83, 84, General Secretariat for National Dialogue, Yemen 2015,, pp. 21, 22

[10] Yemeni Law, Freedom of the Press and Publications Law, Article No. 3, 1990, National Information Center, , accessed on 30/1/2023.

[11] SAM Organization, Geneva, 9/7/2020, , accessed on 2/2/2023.

[12] Sarah Al-Areqi, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, October 4, 2021, available at the link, , accessed on 26/2/2023.

[13] Same source above

[14] Diana Samaan, “Yemen: Government must stop prosecuting journalists and stop harassing them,” Amnesty International 8/18/2022, , accessed 2/2/2023.

[15] Previous source, SAM human rights organization

[16] Previous source, SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties, , seen on 26/2/2023.

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