Press Release by YemenPortal
The anti-website censorship website freeyemenportal.org was officially launched today by Mideast Youth and YemenPortal.net as part of an ongoing campaign to free yemenportal.net from a two-month long ban imposed by the Yemeni government. Furthermore, yemenportal.info was also activated as a mirror site to circumvent the blockage of the earlier blocked domains.
The launch of the website coincides with an unprecedented wave of bans by the Yemeni regime targeting news and opinion websites including blogs and discussion forums. The blocking of Yemenportal.net and its alternative domain was protested by many local and international advocacy organizations including Reporters sans Frontiers, Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19, the World Association of Newspapers plus many others.
The Director of MidEast Youth, Esra’a Al-Shafei said she committed to assisting the website’s founder and administrator Walid Al-Saqaf in bringing more pressure on the authorities to unblock the website. “It is imperative that we defend free speech and free access to information. The Yemeni authorities have failed to provide adequate grounds upon which the website has been banned within the country,” said Al-Shafei.
Al-Saqaf said he is campaigning on many levels to unblock the website, which is a search engine fetching and indexing news and opinion content on Yemen from about 1,500 sources. He hoped the new website launched today will include news updates, information about alternative domains, circumventing techniques, information on how to help the campaign, media coverage about the ban plus other relevant information.
How it started:
YemenPortal.net started as part of Al-Saqaf’s master program in Sweden to analyze the Yemeni cyber sphere and examine the impact of news websites on democracy. But with more than 300,000 items today, the website became one of the most content-rich Yemeni online resources.
Between the day it was established in the end of May 2007 and until the day it was banned, YemenPortal.net maintained an impressive rate of growth to become one of the most prominent Yemeni websites and simultaneously, became one of the unique academic-driven projects that brought pride to the Örebro University’s Global Journalism Department. However, the website’s growth in terms of visitors and accessibility in Yemen was halted by governmental intervention when the ministry of communication in Yemen blocked it from being accessed inside Yemen on January 19, 2008.
Given his mission to study Yemen’s online media, YemenPortal.net’s founder hoped the authorities would encourage the project and facilitate his research. “But what happened shocked me and disappointed my website’s regular visitors. What is even more ironic is that for some time, the authorities kept on denying that they blocked the website despite clear evidence to the contrary. It is frustrating to see your own government fighting a project that could have enabled millions of Yemenis the chance to be well-informed.” Al-Saqaf said.
Al-Shafei of Mideast Youth supported this view by saying that the website should have been appreciated instead of being targeted because it presented a wide spectrum of news and opinions from diverse sources. “Yemen Portal is a vital source of information and should be rewarded for its exceptional contribution. Instead, the Yemeni authorities have made it inaccessible. We are here to change that.” She added that unblocking the website is necessary to prevent the government from manipulating public opinion by restricting specific views or news on the Internet from reaching the people.
The fight goes on:
The ban of Al-Saqaf’s website triggered a resistance movement led by YemenPortal.net against the ban of all Yemeni websites. With the integrated technology of the search engine, Al-Saqaf established a special proxy to allow Internet users in Yemen to access the banned websites and also to read contents from more than a dozen banned sources on one page.
The resistance movement consequences as the authorities went ahead in banning its website as well. However, a new alternative website was activated in a record time and its web address was sent out to thousands of subscribers and readers. About a day after the alternative website was announced, the personal car of Al-Saqaf in Sana’a was vandalized by unknown men, prompting Al-Saqaf to close down the Sana’a office out of fear of other physical attacks that may materialize.
“If the attack was meant to be a warning message, then it only emboldened our determination to strengthen our resistance of website censorship.” Al-Saqaf said. “It also proves that the resistance efforts are actually working and causing some to take such desperate measures.”
Al-Saqaf vowed to continue the campaign despite hate emails and online messages targeting his person and calling for his prosecution allegedly for republishing material and giving a platform for banned websites that harm ‘national security and unity’. “I will not allow my website to become a tool in the hands of the government.” Al-Saqaf said. “This is why it is important to fight against this unjust ban, particularly as it contradicts with the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Yemeni constitution.”About our resistance to the government’s ban
As many of you may know, after the ban of yemenportal.net, the website initiated a nation-wide resistance movement online. It is an effort to neutralize the advantage of the Yemeni government in restricting access to specific websites due to news or opinion content that it may dislike.
This resistance is starting to yield results with more people becoming familiar with it.
The idea was to basically set up a robot on the website blocked.arabiaportal.net to retrieve the content of all blocked websites and list them according to their sources and category. There are articles belonging to forums, news websites, and opinion websites. All of those stories can be viewed in full at: http://blocked.arabiaportal.net/yemen/
However, this resistance movement must have offended the regime so the website (blocked.arabiaportal.net/yemen) itself was banned. Hence, we established yet another domain yemenportal.org and put the blocked content of all those websites at yemenportal.org/blocked.
This is what the resistance is all about: never give up. It will be like this, i.e., they ban a website and we establish another, until they give up on this chase and let the people in Yemen browse banned websites freely.
Thus far, we have been able to get close to a thousand emails of people who subscribed to our service at http://yemenportal.org/?signup=1 and other websites that have already been in touch with us before.
Every time the government blocks our alternative website, we will open another. The attack on the car of yemenportal.net, which took place after we set up the second alternative domain, had only proven to us that there are elements unhappy with our acts and are willing to go to extreme lengths to deter us. However, this has not achieved their objective and we decided to close down the office and have no representative in Yemen to avoid any clashes by those people.
In brief, our resistance now is fully 100% online. But this resistance cannot grow and be more effective unless you help out and participate.
Therefore, the best you could do to help this resistance grow is to put up the below graph in a convenient location on your blog or website and have it point to the following link: http://yemenportal.org/blocked.
You can also add one of the below campaign’s logo pointing to this website: http://freeyemenportal.org:
You can make a difference. Please help our movement grow and free yemenportal.net and all other Yemeni websites.