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Yemenis hope online video will keep spotlight on uprising

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Ashley Fantz
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Support Yemen group has made an online video to maintain attention on movement
  • Prominent activist Atiaf Alwazir plays major role in "Breaking the Silence"
  • Activists look into the camera and explain what they want, ask for support

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- Young anti-government activists in Yemen have launched a new online video campaign to remind people that their months-long uprising is continuing, and that they have no intention of backing down.

While the Arab Spring in Libya and Egypt has captivated international audiences for most of the year, there's a sense among some Yemenis that worldwide attention to their cause has waned.

That's in part why a small group of activists calling itself Support Yemen recently posted a video called "Break the Silence" on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other places online.

Shot in black and white, it features young Yemenis speaking into the camera, explaining why they're protesting their government and asking for support. Stylistically, the video looks like the popular "ONE" campaign ads, which feature Hollywood celebrities talking about poverty and disease in Africa.

"Break the Silence" was posted on YouTube a week ago and has had close to 9,000 views, and the group has an active Twitter account at @SupportYemen.

Activists' favorite weapon: Social media

The campaign is another example of how young activists in North Africa and the Middle East are using social media to strengthen their cause and spread their desire for democracy throughout the world.

Atiaf Alwazir, a well-known activist who blogs at Woman from Yemen, is playing a major role in the Break the Silence campaign. She appears in the video.

She and other activists in "Break the Silence" explain what they want: "We want independent institutions with an independent judiciary. We want the release of hundreds of political detainees. We want an end to the corruption. We want improved health care. We want better education."

"We hear a lot of about different countries," Alwazir explained to CNN, referring to coverage of revolutions in Libya and Egypt. "But the reality is, Yemen is not really a top concern for many people in the international community."

Yemen is a profoundly poor country of more than 24 million that occupies the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Uprisings began in February against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, and have grown increasingly violent. Many people have died.

Al Qaeda's spokesman killed

For years before the protests, Yemen was a significant security concern for the U.S. It's known as a location where al Qaeda and other terror groups operate. It's where Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and leading member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in a drone attack several weeks ago.

What's behind escalating Yemen violence?

In the past week, violence has escalated in Sanaa.

But for Support Yemen, those are just reasons to keep pressing forward. The face of their country is young -- the median age is 18, according to the CIA World Fact Book. The youth involved in their movement have energy, determination, a savvy understanding of social media, and a kind of courage driven by a fierce desire to live a different life with more freedom than their parents or grandparents.

Nobel laureate: 'Victory for Yemen'

Tawakkul Karman, a 32-year-old Yemeni rights activist and journalist, shared the Nobel Peace Prize this month with two other female activists. Recognition for Karman on such a significant international platform was a major boost to protesters' resolve, said Alwazir.

It's been equally satisfying that Support Yemen has received a flurry of supportive e-mails and phone calls from Yemenis and people across the world reacting to the "Break the Silence" video.

"A lot of people sent us e-mails saying thank you -- we got to see, we got to hear," she said. "We connected on a human level with people, I think."

The "Break the Silence" video was made in donated studio space using equipment from a filmmaker who is sympathetic to the group's cause.

Alwazir stresses that the movement in Yemen encompasses not just young people, but everyday people of all ages and backgrounds, coming together day in and day out in the streets of Sanaa and the southern cities of Aden and Taiz to call for Saleh's ouster.

"Tribesmen, academics, writers, students, farmers, artists," Alwazir says into the camera.

Violent clashes between pro-government forces and the protesters have been nearly constant for the past several months.

The latest round of violence claimed 11 lives Tuesday as anti-government protesters clashed with Yemeni security forces in Sanaa, according to a hospital director, Mohammed Qubati. Crowds marched through downtown Sanaa, where government forces allegedly gunned down protesters.

This week Amnesty International issued a statement urging that the global community send a "clear message that those responsible for extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances in Yemen will be brought to justice as part of any transition agreement" in Yemen.

Amnesty International also warned against any deal that would give Saleh, or those who work under him, blanket immunity if there is a transition of power. That kind of agreement could prevent criminal investigations and prosecutions for hundreds of protester deaths, the group said, as well as other human rights violations that happened before the revolt this year. Amnesty International urged the U.N. Security Council, which is expected to vote on a Yemen resolution soon, to oppose that kind of arrangement.

Back in Yemen, Alwazir and the other activists say they will continue to protest, on the street and on the Web.

They hope "Break the Silence" will put real faces on a cause that they believe is universal.

"It's not just a Yemeni issue," she said. "It's a human issue when people are killed on the streets."

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