I was home when I heard what sounded like gunshots; a couple of minutes later I got the first news about the US embassy in Yemen, saying some people were storming the building. I got my video camera equipment ready and took a taxi to the embassy with two female colleagues, one whom happens to be my wife.
We were close to the embassy when we began seeing the black smoke coming from the area and some people running in the street. Two minutes after we got out of the car and began walking, a tear gas canister flew our way. I began filming as the air filled with tear gas and we could hear gunshots being fired. Suddenly, canisters landed next to us, hurting our eyes and throats, and we ran into a small shop to take shelter. At that point, I saw one protester take the canister and throw it back at the security forces.
A few minutes later, as things seemed quieter I went back outside, leaving the other two behind, and started to film again. I saw the security forces at the end of the street shooting tear gas again, sometimes at close range on people a few metres away from them. I was filming the whole scene when officers started to run in the street toward me.
"The men caught me from both sides, hitting my back with their batons"
I immediately ran back to the shop to seek shelter, but the door was locked. In the few seconds it took my companions to open it, security had caught me and started to push me violently. One of them pointed his gun in front of my face yelling something I cannot remember. I immediately showed them my press card, obtained by the Yemeni Ministry of Information, and screamed that I was a journalist.
They did not seem to care and tried to take my video camera from my hands as they entered the shop. My colleagues were scared but the guys continued to scream at me, saying they wanted the camera. My wife tried to intervene, explaining I was a journalist, but they pushed her away. My camera fell on the floor as I was trying to protect myself from the soldiers.
I managed to put back the camera inside the bag to protect it and went outside. The men caught me from both sides, hitting my back with their batons, almost ripping my clothes. […] My colleague tried to photograph them assaulting me to have proof of the violence but they prevented her and tried to steal her camera. [...] The men continued to push me and I fell on the ground on top on the bag, yelling that I would not give up the camera, that I was a journalist and it was my right to be here. Again, they tried, but I pulled the bag away from them with all my strength as if I were defending a child.
They finally asked instead for the memory card, which I also refused to give them. But with the loud screams and their anger, I caved in, and thought giving them the card was a compromise to save my camera. They then let us run away. We took shelter in a neighbouring house to wait for the situation to calm down. There we were greeted warmly by a family whose kids took us to the farthest room in the house. [We stayed there] for less than an hour before taking a taxi back home […].
"The security forces' behaviour has not changed since the revolution"
In the car ride, reflecting on what happened, I was wondering if filming the protesters storming the embassy would have gotten me in the same trouble. It seems certain that filming the security forces’ response to protesters was the line that I crossed and their actions and behaviour has not changed since the revolution.
Journalists in Yemen generally have a hard time, especially when their reporting reflects negatively on the government. Human rights and press freedom organisations have reported on various violations against journalists in the past, especially Yemeni journalists who face greater dangers than foreign correspondents. They have risked their lives but few have gotten mainstream media attention. What happened to me is unfortunately a regular incident for many Yemeni journalists. After hearing about what happened to me, a Yemeni colleague, Mohammed Al-Asaadi, who was arrested in 2006 for criticising violent protests against the Danish cartoons, told me: “This [the rough treatment by security forces] is the official recognition of journalists in Yemen. Now you are a certified reporter. Keep safe!”