C O N F I D E N T I A L SANAA 000222
FOR NEA/ARP, NEA/PPD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/01/2020
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KPAO YM
SUBJECT: IN ADEN, NEWSPAPER HEADQUARTERS STILL BLACKENED
FROM GOVERNMENT’S RPG’S
REF: SANAA 25
Classified By: Ambassador Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
¶1. (C) SUMMARY. On January 31, EmbOffs visited Aden-based independent newspaper al-Ayyam to assess what happened on January 4, when an exchange of gunfire killed a government
soldier and an al-Ayyam guard, and led to the arrest of al-Ayyam Editor-in-Chief Hisham Bashraheel (reftel). This incident marked the nadir of months of government harassment of al-Ayyam, a polarizing symbol of regional identity in Yemen’s south. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX expressed concern that Hisham would be killed in custody. Although questions remain about the Bashraheels’ account, the damage to the al-Ayyam
compound, including impact from four RPGs, suggests a disproportionate response by the ROYG risking potential loss
of civilian life and ignoring journalists’ safety and freedom. END SUMMARY.
¶2. (C) On January 31, EmbOffs visited the al-Ayyam compound in the crowded Crater neighborhood of Aden. The compound, which includes the headquarters of independent newspaper al-Ayyam and the home of the Bashraheel family who own and manage al-Ayyam, was the scene of an exchange of gunfire on January 4 that resulted in the death of a government soldier and an al-Ayyam guard and the arrest of al-Ayyam
Editor-in-Chief Hisham Bashraheel and his relatives Hani and Mohammed (reftel).
BUILDING HEAVILY DAMAGED
¶3. (C) The al-Ayyam compound showed damage from heavy gunfire. The front gate, front rooms, and rear walls were riddled with bullet holes which appeared to be from 7.62mm rounds. The compound also sustained at least four RPG hits. The secondary detonation of the RPG shells after their entry in the house started a fire, and several rooms were still blackened from smoke. Six children and fourteen women were in the Bashraheel home during the attack, but none were injured.
BASHRAHEEL: WE NEVER FIRED A SHOT
¶4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXX (strictly protect), XXXXXXXXXXXX
said that although his guards were armed with .45 pistols and
AK47s, they never fired a shot in response to the bombardment
of the compound. He said that the casualties on the government side were the result of friendly fire between CSF and Crater police forces. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said that there were 20 firearms inside the compound, and showed EmbOff the licenses for them. (Note: Reports from official and some independent media sources at the time contradicted XXXXXXXXXXXX account and suggested that al-Ayyam guards engaged in a firefight with CSF, and that a large cache of illegal weapons, including sniper rifles, were confiscated from the compound (reftel). End Note.) A government mediation committee was moving in
and out of the compound during those twelve hours to negotiate the terms of Hisham’s arrest. Hisham had initially refused to walk out of the compound unless the Governor and Police Commissioner of Aden accompanied him out to guarantee his safety.
¶5. (C) Hisham, Hani, and Mohammed Bashraheel are all still in custody. XXXXXXXXXXXXX told PolOffs, “XXXXXXXXXXXXX are being tortured to confess. (The government is) cooking something.
I believe that one of the members of my family is going to be
killed in prison.”
¶6. (C) “(President Saleh) has a personal vendetta against (Hisham),” XXXXXXXXXXXXX said. “They evacuated the neighborhood two
days in advance. It was carefully planned.” Attempting to explain the twelve-hour standoff between the initial outbreak of gunfire and government security forces entering the compound to arrest Hisham, XXXXXXXXXXXXXX said that President Saleh choreographed the operation from Sana’a by telephone and couldn’t decide how he wanted it to end.
A SOUTHERN SYMBOL
¶7. (C) Al-Ayyam has become a key refrain in the chants of southern dissidents and a symbol of the Sana’a government’s mistreatment of the south and its institutions. Representatives of the Adeni NGO community expressed to PolOff on January 30 their outrage at the shelling of al-Ayyam. Aden Deputy Chief of the Yemeni Socialist Party
(YSP) Qassim Dawood told PolOffs on January 30 that the Adeni
opposition was disappointed at the silence of the international community on al-Ayyam. Opposition Islah Party MP Insaf Mayo told PolOffs on January 30, “If the government used the kind of firepower against the house of (rebel leader) Abdulmalik al-Houthi that it used against al-Ayyam, the (Houthi rebel group) would be finished.”
¶8. (C) ROYG officials have responded by painting al-Ayyam’s front page as the banner of the separatist Southern Movement. “For the last several years, al-Ayyam has given up journalism and moved into politics,” Aden Deputy Governor Abdulkareem Shaif told PolOffs on January 30. “They would print five pictures from secessionist rallies on page one. Who prints five pictures on page one?” XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, told PolOff on January 29 that the Bashraheels were involved in funneling money from overseas to Southern Movement leaders, a widely circulated (though unsubstantiated) claim among ROYG officials and government-affiliated journalists.
¶9. (C) Some aspects of the Bashraheels’ account are questionable, but it is clear that government security forces fired RPGs at a house with civilian occupants, located in a crowded urban area. The government’s assault on the compound evinces a disregard for potential loss of civilian life, southern political unrest, and journalists’ safety and freedom. END COMMENT.