May 4 1998

Minister of Information: “Journalists must rely on objectivity and credibility in fighting corruption, tackling shortcomings and rectifying misconceptions.”
Mr. Abdulrahman Al-Akwa’a is the Minister of Information. He occupied several official posts, including secretary to the President, deputy Minister of Information, deputy Minister of Youth and Sport, vice-president of the Olympic Committee, and vice-president of the Scouts Society.
He was appointed Vice-Minister of Information in the first government following the unification of Yemen in 1990. He was elected member of parliament in April, 1993 and became the Minister of Information in 1995.
Al-Akwa’a was elected a member of the General Committee of the People’s General Congress in 1995 and member of the Peace and Solidarity presidium. He was elected an MP in the April, 1997 general elections.
Ismail Al-Ghabiri of Yemen Times met Minister Al-Akwa’a on the occasion of the Freedom of the Press Day, May 3rd, and filed the following interview:
Q: How do you assess press freedom in Yemen today?
A: By comparing journalism in Yemen with advanced countries, we find that it has not reached to optimal levels. The development of journalism depends on 3 factors: an environment of free press, financial resources, and qualified people.
Despite the availability of press freedom, as guaranteed by the Yemeni Constitution and the Press and Publications Law, the other two elements are not always present in the official press establishments.
Therefore, the Ministry has, in conjunction with these establishments, adopted an action plan to develop the press in order to better serve society and the development process. First, the internal conditions of the establishments are re-organized, the charters and structures are endorsed, and their financial system developed. Emphasis is made on training and qualifying journalists and other staff.
The Ministry is preparing for the establishment of a high institute for media studies, in accordance with a decision by the Council of Minister to this effect. The institute will be financially and administratively independent.
I can say that the development of journalism, official and otherwise, requires bigger resources and continuous training, in addition to the adherence to the Press and Publication Law. Freedom of the press must never be exploited to harm the religious and national fixed principles or negatively affect the general interests of the nation and the citizens. Journalists must never violate the recognized ethics of their profession.
Journalism must rely on objectivity and credibility in fighting corruption, tackling shortcomings and rectifying misconceptions. Thus it can have a stronger influence on the official and popular levels.
Q: The recently issued the financial statute for issuing newspapers and other publications has been ignored by the media people. What do you think about that?
A: Issuing the financial statute is an enactment of the Law of Journalism, which states in its Article 46: ‘A newspaper or a magazine must have a capital specified by a statute issued by the Minister of Information, excluding newspapers and magazines published by parties, mass and creative organizations and governmental bodies.’
The aim behind issuing this statute is to regulate the issuance of press publications. But some people have worked on distorting this fact. Nobody can prove that the Ministry of Information has, before or after issuing the statute, anything that violates the Press and Publications Law or limits the freedom of the press.
I must stress here that any clause in the financial statute that is bound to hinder journalistic work or restrict the freedom of the press is considered null and void because it contravenes the constitution and the law. This statute was only issued after it had been discussed by all the top people in journalism such as the head and the general secretariat members of the Journalists Syndicate and a number of journalists and chief editors of partisan and non-official publications. I am sorry to say that those who criticize the statute now are from among those who discussed and ratified it.
Freedom of the press is not a bequest. It is a constitutional right and a basis for our political system, which relies on freedom, democracy and political pluralism.
Through Yemen Times, I call upon every journalist who knows of any act committed by the Ministry of Information violating the law or restricting the freedom of the press to inform us. If no satisfactory response is given in accordance with the Press and Publications Law, then the journalist concerned can resort to court. We will be obliged to implement a decision by a court of law. However, what happens is the opposite of that.
For example, some newspaper falsely criticize or accuse the Ministry of Information. Some claim that issues of certain newspapers are confiscated or withdrawn from newsstands. This never happened. Freedom of the press never means violating the law.
Q: Some journalists suggested that the statute should include paying fees to the Journalists Syndicate. It was alleged that you agreed to this suggestion, but it is not included in the statute. Why is that?
A: We do not mind the Journalists Syndicate levying fees as specified by the law. When there is an active syndicate that serves the interests of its members and takes care of the journalistic activities in general, then we’ll be more than happy to cooperate with it and provide it with all the necessary assistance.
Q: Preparations were initiated by the Ministry to grant licenses to the private sector radio and TV stations. What has become of this matter?
A: Preparations mean that we are formulating the legal bases to regulate such a scheme. The legal framework will then have to be discussed and ratified by the Council of Ministers and parliament.
Q: The Journalists Syndicate is all but paralyzed. What do you suggest to revive it?
A: We do not want to interfere in trade union activities. Evaluating the syndicate must be done by its members. I see that it is about time for the syndicate to hold a conference, elect a leadership and re-organize its activities in order to be able to achieve its goals of developing journalism in our country.
Q: Efforts were started to develop the official media and get out of its outdated mode. What has been achieved so far in this regard?
A: Big efforts are made in the creative, administrative and financial fields. The following examples give an indication.
– Issuing a new regulatory statute for the Ministry of Information.
– Issuing a decision to re-organize the following press establishments:
* 14 October Press, Printing and Publishing Establishment
* Al-Thawra Printing and Publishing Establishment
* Al-Jumhoria Printing and Publishing Establishment
* Al-Hamadani for Printing and Publishing
* Sabaa News Agency.
– Re-organizing the Bakatheer House for Printing and Publishing.
– We are now about to ratify a decision to re-organize the Radio and TV General Establishment and the Information Documentation Center.
– Preparing a draft decision to establish the Media High Institute to be submitted to the Council of Ministers.
– Concluding all the regulatory statutes for the above establishments.
– Expanding the radio and TV transmission range, locally and abroad through re-equipping and establishing new radio transmitters for both the Sanaa and Aden radios and establishing the satellite channel on 20 December, 1995.
– Extending radio and TV transmission for the first time to the Island of Socotra, Al-Mahara, and parts of Shabwa, Al-Jawf, Saada, and Hadhramaut.
– Establishing educational TV studios at the First Channel with assistance by the Japanese government. Similar studios are planned for the Second Channel.
– Providing the two TV channels, the two major radio stations and local radio stations in Mukallah, Taiz and Hodeida with modern equipment.
– We are in the process of finalizing the “Media Cadre” project which was ratified by the Council of Ministers and will create a qualitative leap in the professional life of media people.
– Qualifying media cadres in all fields of creativity, especially in the radio and TV.
Q: How do you evaluate the performance of the Yemeni satellite channels?
A: Establishing the satellite channel is an important step in developing the country’s media activity and expanding its range and diversity. There is no doubt that the satellite channel is playing a remarkable role, despite its limited resources. This however, does not means that it has reached a very distinguished level. It is still in need of support to improve its performance through training its staff and providing it with all the necessary requirements.
Q: Some Yemeni TV and radio presenters and announcers are leaving to work at other Arab stations?
A: Some people try to get better job opportunities, and we do not try to stop or hinder them. There are enough people to replace those who leave.
Q: You started regular meeting with newspaper editors. Why did such contacts stop?
A: We welcome all communication with journalists and chief editors from partisan and other non-official newspapers. I stress the importance of such meetings, but leave the matter up to them to initiate the contacts.
Q: You have several ideas to improve the media, but have not been implemented. Are there any external reasons behind that?
A: There are no external factors. We have to bear the responsibility for all positive and negative aspects in the information work, and try to remove all the obstacles we face.
There is no doubt that the public desires to see a qualitative move forward in the media apparatuses. But people not realize the huge difficulties we face, which are in need of exceptional efforts to overcome them.
_______________________ Top Yemeni Journalists Express their Views
Mr. Noman Qayid, Chief Editor of Al-Shourah weekly:
Unfortunately, “freedom” of the press in this country is governed and controlled by fear. It is the fear which is entrenched in the hearts and souls of journalists since the epoch of totalitarianism during the pre-unification days.
Frankly speaking, the “freedom” of the press after unification is not really what it seems, or really in the way of those who try make us believe in its existence. Not even in its minimum level.
Evidence on what I say is a lot, the latest of which include the measures and promises made under various misnomers.
The freedom available in Yemen, compared to other countries, is better. But it is not exactly what we seek. Fear is strangling the press, making it incapable of benefiting society.
Mr. Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani, Chief Editor of Al-Umma weekly:
Freedom of the press in the modern meaning of the concept is still new to Yemen, and is still affected by the aftermath of the 1994 war. Several newspapers and other publications are subjected to closure and harassment.
The press in Yemen, due to the general political atmosphere is restricted and the margin of democracy is diminishing; it is living under the control of more than one censor – starting from self-censorship to monitoring by the security organs.
Some people still believe that the press must be monitored and censored. Moreover, the Journalists Syndicate – like many other syndicates and trade unions – is far from active.
The activities of the reporters and correspondents of news agencies are restricted. They can only publish what the authorities permit them to publish. They sometimes ignore the stances taken by the opposition.
Mr. Ahmed Al-Jabali, Managing Editor of the 26 September weekly:
A big change occurred regarding freedom of expression in Yemen following its unification on 22 May, 1990. The Constitution guarantees political plurality and freedom of the press. The Press and Publications Law came out to emphasize this issue.
The Yemeni Constitution and laws have allowed a big space of democracy, which without exaggeration, does not exist in many Arab countries including those which started practicing democracy well before Yemen.
Several opposition newspapers express their opinion without the slightest fear from anybody. They rely on the available freedom, which sometimes goes beyond what is provided by the Constitution. Sometime some journalists damage the reputation of the country and its symbols, a thing which many world democracies would never sanction. I attribute this to over-enthusiasm on the part of these journalists, who get carried away taking advantage of the free and democratic atmosphere. They then transgress.
It is a start, which we all hope will be consolidated.
Mr. Sami Ghalib, Editing Secretary of Al-Wahdawi weekly:
The main problem lies in the fact that the available margin of freedom is not yet well established as specific ethics and responsibilities. Its prospects are still not clear.
So journalists and publishers will have to work according to their own intuitions and personal experiences.
The Yemeni Press and Publications Law is rather advanced compared to similar laws in neighboring countries. However, recent developments send signals of warning. The recently issued financial statute gives the government the right to interfere with the internal affairs of the non-official newspapers. They can inspect these publications’ accounts, control their marketing decisions, advertisement rates, and even the price of individual copies.
The President in a recent interview by Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel indicated that the government intends to amend the press law in order to ban Yemeni newspapers from referring to the policies of friendly countries.
Journalists are still not allowed to get information from official sources. Even when a journalist gets information through private sources, he or she cannot verify it through the official channels. This may be attributed to the ignorance of some officials of the importance of the press in publishing the truth.
The legislative system of the freedom of the press is not fully complete, which leads to confusing what can be published with what is banned. Not all people in the government however, try to restrict press freedom. There are, on the other hand, influential non-official people who try to silence the press.
Mr. Abdullah Ibraheem Al-Wazeer, Chief Editor of Al-Balagh weekly:
There is no doubt that freedom of the press in Yemen has witnessed a big leap forward after unification on 22 May, 1990. However, this freedom has regressed following the war of 1994 through self-censorship. This state of self-censorship is imposed by the individual journalist to spare himself or herself any untoward reaction by the authorities, whether it be detention or other acts that violate the constitution and the enacted laws.
Actions taken by the state include creating and supporting rivals that harass the journalist or publisher in question.
Nevertheless, such negative approaches should never make journalists practice self-censorship. They must reject or confront any unlawful behavior on the part of the state.
Sometimes the authorities withhold news from journalists, despite the fact that the law provides for freedom of information. Journalists would then resort to acquiring news in roundabout ways such as bribery, personal contacts with influential and informed people, etc. This aspect is very dangerous. Withholding information makes the press lose its role and its cause as a watchdog for the people.
As journalists, we must never give up our freedom.
Mr. Najeeb Mohammed Ibraheem, Consulting Editor of Al-Jamaheer weekly:
Freedom of the press in Yemen is governed by a political mechanism that was established following the unification of the country. Tens of newspapers and publications, partisan and independent, appeared reflecting the desire of various social powers to express themselves after a long period of suppression.
On the other hand, some of these newspapers were merely echoing the powers that formed the new ruling authority. By some estimates, the ruling authority has funded the publishing of some newspapers in order to create a state of confusion and reshuffle the cards of the political game. Thus it can limit the influence of publications belonging to other political parties and prevent them from acquiring wide popular bases.
Other observers indicate that the aim is to distort the facts and weaken the opposition newspapers.
The Press and Publications Law gives an appreciable room for freedom of expression. It does not impose censorship and allows for resorting to the judicial system in the case of any violation of the fixed national principles.
Overall, Yemen has made a lot of progress in ensuring freedom of the press. This fact cannot be denied. The acute political turns during the last 8 years did not diminish the allowed margin for freedom of the press.
Mr. Hassan Abdulwareth, Managing Editor of Al-Thawri weekly:
Freedom of the press in Yemen is limited. Journalists and civil liberties activists all hope to diminish the list of forbidden topics.
Despite the fact that many people consider the Press Law in Yemen to be more advanced than in many other Arab countries, the taboos in this law are still quite appreciable. Loopholes also allow for various interpretations that can be used to punish journalists by those who can exploit the law to their advantage.
The President’s recent announcement in indicate that the authorities have hidden intentions to increase the scope of obstacles. Moreover, the recently issued financial statute and other proposed amendments to the law all point to more prohibitions.
In all this, the Journalists Syndicate and other bodies that are supposed to be concerned with freedom of the press and other civil liberties stand idle on the sidelines.
________________________________ Press & Publications Prosecutor: “Slander is the cause of most complaints against independent and partisan newspapers.”
Abdul-Qader Hamza graduated from the Police College in Cairo, Egypt, in 1975. He first worked at the Police College in Sanaa then became the Press and Publication Prosecutor.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor talked to him about his work and press freedom.
Q: How and when was the Press and Publications Prosecutor Office established?
A: The Press and Publication Prosecutor Office (PPPO) was first established on 5 January, 1993 upon Decision No. 5 of 1993 by the Public Prosecutor. The PPPO is considered a specialized primary prosecutor office, and the reason for its establishment does not differ from the reasons for establishing other specialized offices such as the traffic, public property, provisions and municipality prosecutor offices.
The main goal is to facilitate the swift conduct of work in the Public Prosecutor Office, in accordance with Article 479 of the former Penal Procedures Law No. 5 of 1979. It stated: ‘The Public Prosecutor issues… and the necessary instructions and decisions for the swift conduct of work at the Public Prosecutor Office.’
According to the relevant articles of the Law Concerning the Establishment and Organization of the Public Prosecutor Office No. 37 of 1977 and its amendments and Judicial Authority Law No. 91, two PPPOs were established in Sanaa and Aden as places were newspapers and other publications are mainly issued. The PPPO is judicially, financially and administratively part of the governorate’s prosecutor office in Aden and part of the Secretariat Prosecutor Office in Sanaa.
Q: What does the PPPO deal with?
A: The PPPO deals with and investigates newspapers and publications, the issuance and distribution of which constitutes a crime punishable by enacted laws such as the Press and Publications Law and the Penal Law.
Q: What are the procedures of submitting a complaint to the PPPO?
A: Like any other specialized primary prosecutor office, complaints and law suits are submitted to the PPPO according to the normal procedures followed in such cases, as stipulated by the Penal Procedures Law, the Litigations Law and other laws dealing with judicial and court procedures.
Procedures differ according to the subject of the case. A law suit is not accepted unless it is connected to a crime committed through a journalistic work or publication. More accurately, it must be associated with a penal case, the issue of which comes within the PPPO’s jurisdiction.
Penal law suits of this kind differ according to whether the subject is a crime mentioned by Article 27 of the Penal Procedures Law No. 13 of 1994 such as slander and defamation.
If it is a crime of complaint, then no procedure can be instituted by the PPPO, whether by investigation or submitting it to court. Unless the complaint is submitted by the victim or his/her legal representative.
If it is not a crime of complaint, then the PPPO can investigate the case and submit it to court without a complaint by the victim or a report by a citizen. It is enough that the PPPO knows about the crime.
This difference is attributed to the general rule that the Public Prosecutor Office has the authority to process a law suit and submit it to court, according to clauses (a) and (c) of Article 21 of the Judicial Authority Law No. 1 of 1991.
The Public Prosecutor Office has the authority to investigate cases which constitute crimes according to the enacted laws. This authority is the rule rather than the exception. It cannot be broken, unless there is law article allows it.
This exception is stated in articles 27 and 30 of the Penal Procedures Law. Article 27 stipulates that ‘the Public Prosecutor Office may not submit penal law suit to court without a formal complaint by the victim of his/her legal representative.’ The crime stated by the law include slander, defamation and similar crimes.
Article 30 states that ‘in all cases where the law stipulates submitting a penal law suit, investigation cannot be conducted without a formal complaint.’ These rules govern the PPPO procedures regarding the crimes that come within its jurisdiction. The PPPO also has the right to file away a case or a complaint when there is not enough evidence or the complaint is not properly lodged, according to clauses (a) and (c) of articles 112 and 218.
Q: How many complaints were submitted to the PPPO since its establishment in 1993?
A: There were 20 cases in 1993, 13 in 1994, 12 in 1995, 25 in 1996 and 20 in 1997. All in all there were 90 cases during the last five years.
Q: How many cases were submitted to the various levels of courts?
A: Sixty cases were submitted to court, 24 of which received primary rulings and 36 are still being reviewed by the primary courts.
There are no cases reviewed by the Court of Cassation.
Q: Against which publications are these complaints mainly submitted?
A: There are some complaints against government and partisan publications. The majority of complaints, however, are against independent newspapers.
Q: What are the most common press crimes?
A: Slander is the most common one.
Q: What are the difficulties in enforcing the Press and Publications Law?
A: There are many difficulties. Some courts do not properly implement the law. For example, crimes committed by newspapers should be first reviewed by the Summary Proceedings Court, according to Paragraph 3 of Article 296. However, the opposite of that happens in some courts to the extent that a case stalls in court for a year or more.
Other difficulties take place when a court rules that criticizing a public employee does not constitute a slander and there is no need for evidence since the aim is to express an opinion in his official conduct. Such a ruling, which sometimes happen, is very strange because Article 182 stipulates that a person who slanders a public employee through a publication should submit valid evidence to prove his allegations.
Actually the law stipulates providing ample evidence to prove any allegations made against a public employee. The claimant’s right to provide the evidence is forfeited if it is not given within a specified period.
Q: To what extent does the Press and Publications Law guarantee freedom of expression?
A: Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 41 of the Yemeni Constitution: ‘The state guarantees freedom of thought and expression in speech, writing and imagery within the limits of the law.’
The Press and Publications Law No. 25 of 1990 has expanded its guarantees of freedom of expression, as stated in articles 3,4,5 and 6. ‘Freedom of expression is a right for all citizens to guarantee their expressing their thoughts… also freedom of the press as it is one of the means of expression… It is a guaranteed right for all citizens… The press is independent to freely carry out its message for the service of society… Its activity must not be impeded except according to the law…’
The press is free to publish and is responsible for what is published, within the limits of the law. The law also provides for journalists all the necessary legal guarantees to practice their profession and express their opinion without any restriction, unless they violate the law.
Surveyd by
Ismail Al-Ghabiry,
Yemen Times