Human rights and press freedom in Yemen: Violations and harassment [Archives:2003/650/Opinion]

July 14 2003

By Sadek al-Udaini
Executive Chairman of Protecting Freedoms and Press Training Center

The democratic atmospheres in Yemen are still shrouded with clouds of retardation and recession the circle of which is widening. This experience is being aggrandized day by day and this has manifested itself in an actual heartache reality.
The flagrant violation of press freedom can be traced through observing the cases of violations on a monthly or quarterly or even a yearly basis. The profession of journalism undergoes displeasing developments concerning rights and freedoms.
This has been clearly made by constant harassment and targeting journalists through a chain of different overstepping procedures.
Attempts to harass the life of journalists and have done in several forms such as, suspending papers, summoning publishers to courts. They are also exposed to physical, moral assault and that their desire to maintain information to the public is blocked.
If compared to any other Arab or foreign journalists, Yemeni journalists are one of the most disadvantaged groups.
They have been employed amid bad living conditions, whether at public or private-sector media institutions and they are still demanding for improving their living conditions by increasing their income in particular.
As for the private media institutions, independent or party organs, journalists are employed without contracts in order to provide or at least to ensure work guarantees for them and to create an professional and living conditions' stability.
What makes the matter worse is that there are intruders and meddlers who have nothing to do with journalism profession. They are just appointed by political or party decrees.
This is not only enough, those intruders and meddlers have been given permissions by the information ministry to run publication houses and newspapers.
They derive their authority from permissions and ministry-supplied cards with which they enjoy several privileges.
The information ministry itself suspends local newspapers as well as Arab and foreign publications and preventing them from being distributed by retaining them at airports and harbors. They are withdrawn from newsstands and book shops for tackling topics dealing internal Yemeni political affairs.
Such measures prompted Mr. Abdulbari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi to apologize from taking part in an international conference activities called “A Book in A Newspaper” held at the beginning of 2002. According to a report published by the Protecting Freedoms of the Press Training Center, PFPTC, said the information ministry was behind about 95 percent of lawsuit cases against newspapers and against journalists, such as interrogation, detention, and harassment during fulfilling their press duties.
A procedure has been taken with regard of dealing with Arab and foreign media corespondents, putting some restrictions on handling some aspects and conditions in Yemen especially concerning the security affairs.
During 2002, the press life in Yemen witnessed one of the severest onslaughts and that violations had exceeded the afore-mentioned percentage.
More than 15 verdicts have been issued against journalists and papers such as, putting journalists in jail, suspending papers and imposing financial fines.
The Athawri, YSP's organ had taken the lion's share in receiving three judicial verdicts against its editor-in-chief and some of its staff.
Another verdict was issued against the Al-Ayyam paper, an independent daily and one of the wide-spread newspapers which had been exposed to harassment along with its staff.
Other verdicts were issued against other papers whether private or independent.
Journalists had been exposed to legal accountability and constant interrogation.
Among such papers are al-Fursan which was suspended without giving objective justifications since 2002 and until the beginning of 2003.
Other papers were suspended such as, Sowt al-Yemen, (Voice of Yemen) and a ministerial decree was taken to confiscate the 29 issue.
Other monthly papers such as, Sowt Ashora was confiscated under the pretext of exceeding the red lines. The decision which was taken against this paper basically depended on the clause, No. (12) and article No. (103)
The judiciary court has issued the verdict in favor of the information ministry decision depending on the two clauses No. (2) and No. (4) , of the article No. (107) related to impinging upon the state's interest causing harm to Yemen's interests and security and defense secrets.
Less than a month later, the information ministry issued a decision suspending the al-Fursan newspaper on the reason of the withdrawal of Ashomoa's permission.
This has led to a hand fighting between Ashomoa' editor-in-chief and the information minister. Its editor-in-chief, Saif al-Hadheri along with some of its staff were detained such as, Muttahar al-Ashmouri.
A female journalist in Taiz was attacked by guards of a public hospital and was interrogated for interrogation just because she was conducting a press reportage on the hospital and its services. Another journalist was detained by the political security office and kept there for about 10 days without any charges or legal justification.
Another journalist called Aref Mohsen al-Khewani was put in prison affiliated to the political security office without any charges.
Violations against press freedom manifested themselves in detention campaigns, kidnappings and snatching journalists' cameras.
Mr. al-Khewani was severely attacked by a group of unidentified people. He was also detained two and half years ago and sent to a lunatic asylum among madmen and mentally backwards.
He was also fired from working at the 26 September newspaper, the mouth-piece of the Yemen's Armed Forces.
He used to work as a managing editor at the 22nd May, People General Congress, PGC-run newspaper.
Mr. al-Khewani has been still aimlessly straying in the capitals' streets and he is in a state resembled to those mentally backwards and has encountered severe physiological disturbances.
Mr. Hussien al-Gerban, the corespondent of the Ashark al-Awsat, (Middle East) a London-based newspaper, was also exposed to constant attack and threat along with his family.
He together with his family were once disallowed from entering their home by a gunmen whom they refused to be stood before the court.
In May, Abdussalam Gaber, a journalist at the Athowri newspaper, was attacked and hit by a group of armed men belonging to the security political office at the Republican Hospital in Sana'a when he had attempt to conduct a news report concerning the hospital's services' conditions.
Other politically affiliated newspapers, such as, Al-Wahdwai, was exposed to a chain of investigations when publishing a number of reports, writings, and opinions.
Its editor-in-chief, editorial secretary and 4 journalists were put in prison with a stay of execution.
Other papers such as, Assahwa, Shoura, and Umah, and other journalists have been still standing before the court concerning publishing some articles.
Perhaps, all of us might have agreed that the weakness of the judicial and legal authority, its lack of sufficient dependence and unqualified cadres are among the reasons which threaten the freedom of opinion and expression.
We notice that the press life in Yemen has been greatly deteriorated in a time in which the Yemen Journalists Syndicate has been living in a very deteriorated situations since 1999.