Call for emergency action before it is too late:Save Yemen’s remaining press freedom! [Archives:2004/773/Viewpoint]

September 16 2004

It is amazing how quickly and drastically the margin of freedom accorded to the press in Yemen has contracted in recent weeks. With the sudden and unexpected verdict against Al-Shoura opposition newspaper and its editor Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani, civil society in Yemen was outraged and disappointed.
Questions concerning how this could occur, are still being asked, with no convincing answers.
Among those questions asked are:
– How could a country that claims to support human rights and freedom of expression launch such a ruthless campaign against a person for his writings?
– Why does a country that claims to have law and order, allow almost all laws and judicial proceedings to be broken and bypassed, one after another, to incarcerate a writer and shut down a newspaper, without even giving the right to appeal?
– Why has President Saleh claimed that he would lift the imprisonment sentence and a few months later allowed the imprisonment of an intellectual civilian because of his newspaper's stance and opinion?
– Doesn't the government feel ashamed or embarrassed by the conditions of this unlawful arrest and prosecution at a time when it was praising itself for being an emerging democracy that supports freedom of the press, as it stated in the recent conference in January, and the emerging democracies forum in 1999?
– Why is the international community, specifically European countries and the USA, not doing enough to stop this clear and undisputed violation of the freedom of the press, to prevent further action to other journalists who now have their fingers crossed in fear that they may be next in line?

Do donor countries and international organizations really understand what is at stake here? Did they hear about the humiliation that opposition parties and intellectuals went through when they had the electricity, water, and communication lines cut off from the building they were supposed to hold a meeting in? Do they know that a small demonstration to protest the arrest of Al-Khaiwani and closure of Al-Shoura was in fact prevented by the authorities?
This is not only about freedom of expression. It is an evolving national concern that these developments threaten the whole democratic process in Yemen.
Opposition newspapers are now unifying in their stance in support of the imprisoned journalist and starting a strike to express their defiance of such action.
But are they alone? I hope not. Every passive spectator to the negative developments in Yemen now, will later regret not moving to protect his/her rights, because it marks the beginning of a massive erosion of civil liberties. Something that we didn't imagine would happen any time soon?
What we are facing is an extreme challenge, to defy the outdated and backward mentality that wishes us to regress to a state of dictatorship and oppression. This we resist and will never accept. But if we are alone, we will soon find ourselves in jail.
We need to bring international pressure to halt such actions which contradict the very basic rights and liberties of human beings. It also conflicts with promises of the government in the recent past.
We need support to save the situation.
It is urgent, is any one hearing?
If there is anyone there, please help save Yemen from destroying what is left of freedom of expression. Save us from a future with no freedom or human rights!
Help us free Al-Khaiwani today, or else we may as well kiss our remaining freedom of the press goodbye!