South24 Center

Houthi Monopolization of the Communications and Internet Sector Threatens Freedom of Information


Thu, 28-03-2024 05:01 PM, Aden

This move serves as a reminder about the consequences of the Houthi hegemony over the internet and communications services in Yemen for the past 10 years which constitutes a threat against the Yemeni people’s freedom of information. 

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24)

On March 10, ‘’, the website of ‘South24 Center for News and Studies’ was blocked by the Houthi-affiliate ‘Public Telecommunications Corporation’ in Sanaa that provides internet and communications services to most users in the country, including those who live in areas controlled by the Internationally-Recognized Government. 

This move serves as a reminder about the consequences of the Houthi hegemony over the internet and communications services in Yemen for the past 10 years which constitutes a threat against the Yemeni people’s freedom of information. This also comes amid the failure by Houthi rivals including the ‘Presidential Leadership Council’ and the Aden-based government to provide proper alternatives.

‘South24 Center’ has described the move as “a painful blow to independent journalism, [that] hinders the ability of Yemenis to obtain reliable information”. Some press organizations, including the Southern Journalists Syndicate, issued solidarity statements in which they condemned the Houthi move and called for freeing the communications sector from the Iran-backed militia. 

‘’ isn’t the only website blocked by the Houthis. The group has continuously blocked dozens of newspapers and satellite channels over the past years. In March, the Houthis suddenly unblocked many of these websites, including channels and newspapers that have helped spread their propaganda regarding their attacks against vessels in the Red Sea.

So, what are the threats related to the ongoing Houthi control over internet services in Yemen against the Yemeni people’s freedom to access information and differing voices? How does this enhance the religious militia’s narrative regarding the internal conflict and the wider regional issues among people? This report answers the questions.

Whosoever owns Information owns Power

Communications and internet expert Fahmi Al-Baheth has warned of the impact of the Houthi monopolization of the sector in Yemen. He told ‘South24 Center’ that “communications and internet are one of the most important weapons for any party”.

He added: “Whosoever controls the communications and internet sector is able to control the most important arteries of awareness, information, and truth. The ongoing Houthi control over both sectors threatens privacy and data confidentiality of everyone.”

He elaborated: “Thus, the Houthis are able to eavesdrop and conduct surveillance activities. They can even cut off the internet in cases of war in certain areas or block websites to deprive people from accessing information or knowing the views of the other party.”

Non-resident researcher at the Middle East Institute Fatima Abo Al-Asrar told ‘South24 Center’: “By controlling the communications sector, the Houthis want to ensure that all messages pass through them. This enables them to examine and also ascertain the sources of these messages.”

According to her, “This control makes Yemenis more cautious in their communications and more reserved in expressing their opinion. They realize that each message can be subject to inspection. This impacts freedom of expression and reduces people’s ability to communicate freely.”

“Under these circumstances, communication has become fraught with danger and pushes Yemenis to reflect a lot before launching their words,” she said.

Political analyst Anwar Al-Tamimi agrees with Abo Al-Asrar. He told ‘South24 Center’ that “the Houthi control over the internet is related to their desire for spreading ignorance, blocking information, and pumping out what they consider as ‘misleading’ information. Therefore, they resort to blocking any media platform debunking their lies.”

Al-Tamimi believes that the Houthi control over communications “will force citizens to deal with the coup-affiliated institutions daily. This would break the barrier of the popular psychological rejection of the group. Gradually, the Houthis can gain popular acceptance as a de facto authority”.

He concluded: “The internet sector is a sovereign one. The control by the coup group over it enables the Houthis to monitor the minute details of political activities related to rival active forces. This impacts or thwarts any political activity they believe would threaten them”.

Restricting Access to Information

The Houthis have resorted to measures that restrict the access to information and blocking of websites since the very beginning of their control over Sanaa, in late 2014.

On October 21, 2015, ‘The Citizen Lab’, which is an interdisciplinary laboratory affiliated with the University of Toronto, focusing on information technology, communications, and global security, published a study saying that “the Houthis in Yemen use Canadian programs to filter critical political content and independent media websites.” 

The study revealed that as of September 2014, the Houthis have expanded their use of the Canadian technology ’Netsweeper‘ on which the Yemeni government had relied for years for filtering internet content, including content belonging to opponents and other political parties.

The study pointed to “ethical and legal concerns” regarding using ‘Netsweeper’ to facilitate monitoring activities in Yemen, especially since the company is a Canadian one that has received funding from the Canadian government. The study called for reviewing laws and policies related to exporting censorship technologies to guarantee that it not be used to violate human rights. 

The study said that 200 websites were blocked during this time, including 30 news portals and 10 affiliated with humanitarian organizations. These numbers clearly reflect the gloomy current situation, nine years after the study and the Houthis control over communications and internet, especially after they assassinated their ally Ali Abdullah Saleh in December 2017 and cemented their monopoly on power. 

A report issued in 2019 by ‘Access Now’ (an organization that defends digital civil rights across the world) said that “Yemen accounted for the majority of internet shutdowns in the Middle East.”

In November 2021, ‘Recorded Future’, a company specializing in the field of cyber threat intelligence, released a report saying that between 2017-2020, 237 cases of internet blocking by the Houthis were documented.  The report added that “technologies such as network-level filtering and firewalls were used to monitor Internet traffic”.

Proposed Solutions 

In a late move to end the Houthi monopolization of the internet and communications, the Yemeni Cabinet approved a draft agreement on August 21, 2023, to establish a joint telecom company between Yemen’s Public Telecommunication Corporation and the Emirati company ‘NX Digital Technology’ to provide mobile phone and internet services in Yemen. 

So far, no new developments have been revealed about the project and whether work on it has started on the ground. At that time, the project was criticized by leading personalities and organizations, including the outgoing Yemeni parliament which spoke about violations in the project based on a report released by the Parliamentary Fact-Finding Committee on August 24 citing "serious violations” in some governmental sectors. 

Prior to that, the state-owned company Aden Net, which was launched in 2018 to deliver fourth-generation internet services (4G), failed in providing the service to people in Aden except for a few percent. It also failed in supplying its services to other governorates, apart from limited presence in Al-Mukalla in Hadramout and Zinjibar in Abyan.

In the face of this failure, researcher Fahmi stresses that the Yemeni government should pay more attention to this issue and address it more seriously. To achieve this, “the establishment of new telecom companies should be allowed as well as allowing satellite internet, such as Starlink. This is in addition to enhancing other international internet paths other than those controlled by the Houthis”, according to him.

He added: “More attention must be paid to cybersecurity and the establishment of specialized teams for it as well as the drawing up of digital security policies and strategies for the state institutions and parties while encouraging the private sector to do likewise.”

In May 2023, ‘South24 Center’ published a report highlighting the use of Starlink satellite internet by some customers in Yemen, provided by the company ’SpaceX‘, owned by American billionaire Elon Musk. It discussed the smuggling of Starlink devices to Yemen. Today, Aden, Hadramout, and other cities have hundreds of users who have resorted to Starlink services. 

Anwar Al-Tamimi believes that ending the Houthi control over the communications and internet services “requires measures and decisions by the Yemeni government, the first of which is a legal move at the local and international arena to remove the Houthi control over the internet and communications sector”.

On February 4, the Yemeni Ministry of Communications called on international communications allies to stop dealing with the Houthis and to prevent them from accessing massive financial resources from the communications sector. 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

Participated in editing this report:
Jacob Al-Sufyani, Director of the Regional Office of the South24 Center in Aden

Note: This is a translated version of the original text written in Arabic

South YemenSouth24 CenterHouthisBlockageInternetCommunication sector