CAIRO – Yemeni authorities stormed local offices of the two leading pan-Arab television networks and confiscated broadcasting equipment in an apparent response to their coverage of the country's south, where a protest movement is pushing to restore the region's independence.
Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera and its rival Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya said Friday that security agents stormed their offices in the capital, San'a, called their staff in for questioning and seized live broadcasting equipment Thursday night.
Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy said authorities acted against the stations because they had no license to operate their live broadcasting equipment, something the stations dispute.
The networks said they believed the raids were related to their coverage of the growing tension in the south, which threatens the impoverished nation's stability along with a deepening Al Qaeda presence and a separate rebel insurgency in the north.
Amid the turmoil, authorities have routinely pressured journalists, particularly over coverage of the government's struggle on these three fronts and the military's performance.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report in February that Yemen's government is one of the most media repressive in the Middle East, banning some newspapers, blocking Web sites and setting up a special court for cases involving media. Some journalists have also gone missing, the report said.
Al-Jazeera said on its Web site that government officials recently warned the station against covering meetings of southern opposition parties.
The southern protest movement, fueled by claims of government neglect and discrimination, has become more violent as tensions have soared in recent weeks. Eight activists and two policemen have been killed this month during a government crackdown.
The south, where 128 years of British rule ended in 1967, remained independent until a unification deal in 1990. Periods of violence with the north followed, including a brief civil war in 1994.
Al-Jazeera's San'a bureau chief, Murad Hashem, said on the network's Web site that Thursday's raid will paralyze its operations.
An official from Yemen's ruling party, Tarek al-Shami, said in an interview with the network on Friday that its reporting was exaggerated and threatened the country's unity.
Yemeni authorities briefly detained Al-Arabiya's bureau chief for questioning in Thursday's sweep, said the station's spokesman, Nasser al-Sarami, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Security agents confiscated the news channel's cameras, computers and live broadcasting equipment, he said.
"They did not explain why they are doing this," al-Sarami said. "They did mention that we have no license to broadcast from Yemen, but that is not true since we've had it since 2002."