May 3 & plight of press freedom in Yemen [Archives:2004/735/Opinion]

May 6 2004

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
[email protected]

The world observes the third of May as the International Press Freedom Day. This observation is a recognition of the importance of journalists and their mission of reporting the truth to people. As a reflection of a free and democratic society; free press plays a significant role in informing the people, and in enabling them to take the right decisions related to their lives and development of their societies.
The third of May is also a good time to recall the obstacles facing this profession and our colleagues who paid their lives as price for conveying the truth.
Despite the fact that Yemen is considered an emerging democracy where press should work freely, we find that journalists continue to face many problems and different sorts of harassment. The government continued last year and this year to detain journalists for expressing their opinions critical to its work.
The most important violation of the press freedom this year was the kidnapping and arresting of Saeed Thabet on charges of allegedly “spreading false information on the attempted assassination against Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh”. Those claims were denied very strongly by the president's son. To add insult into injury, the court verdict was unjust in sentencing the man into six months of suspension from practicing his profession plus a fine.
These violations and discriminations against non-government media people continue. On another level, and although the law stipulates that court trials should be made public, the authorities refused to allow journalists, except those working for government media, to attend some of the trial hearings of the assassin of Jarallah Omar. Police officers deal with journalists in an insulting manner. Not only this. But some officials and ministers refuse to talk to the media if it is not state-run while some still think of foreign media correspondents as agents for the institutions they work for.
Such misunderstanding should be corrected so that media can operate freely and professionally.
The government continues to control electronic media which represents a very important source of information for most of Yemeni people, mainly in the countryside where print media is not available and most of the people are illiterate. Opposition parties have no chance to address the public only during election period.
While writing this column, I have been informed that Abdulkareem al-Khaiwani, the editor-in-chief of al-Shoura weekly has been summoned by the PSO without knowing the reason. But according to some sources in the paper, it was because of publishing articles and reports critical to the government and the political regime mainly a report published last week exposing common problem of the rule succession of military and government positions by the son and relatives of the big guys at the decision-making core.
The paper published some of the names of the sons and relatives of the high ranking officials who have been given important positions allegedly for nothing but favoritism, nepotism and close relationship criteria while other good qualified people are jobless. The editor of the paper told the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate he received call threats after publishing the report, warning him that “touching national interests and security” will not go unpunished.
Yemeni journalists said they would lead a campaign demanding the abolition of the article from the law related to the imprisonment of journalists. And, I believe it the right time to do that as well as demand for the stop of abuse of media people.
In fact, the fight for press freedom should never stop.
In this occasion, we would urge the international community and donors to pay attention to the vitality of supporting and strengthening media, improving the professionalism of media people so that they can have a role in development. We believe that media is dynamic factor in the development process and a must for any democratization drive to take place.
Media can also be a good fighter against corruption if it is well run, and can contribute positively to the stability, growth, and prosperity of its nation.