Media freedoms in the Arab world – semi annual report 2007 [Archives:2007/1084/Reportage]

September 10 2007

Translated and summarized by: Nadia Al-Sakkaf
Journalists in Iraq and Palestine are the most violated journalists in the Arab world according to a recent report by the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies. Amman Center for Human Rights Studies monitored the violations and abuse against press freedom and journalists in 18 Arab countries during the first six months of this year. These countries are: Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Algeria, Djibouti-, KSA, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, and Mauritania. The report took into consideration the type of violations with relevance to the political and geographical environment of each country.

The aim of this report is to document the status of media freedoms in the Arab world in order to provide an authentic foundation for projects and programs working on developing media laws and professional journalism in the region.

General over view of Yemeni press freedom in the first half of 2007

It seems Yemen is going through yet another bad year in terms of press freedom. During the first half of this year Yemeni journalists underwent difficult times because of legislations allowing the imprisonment of journalists and because of the personal threats they keep facing.

Cases of assault and threat have reached the highest this year. Moreover, there are a number of pending cases in courts, which prove the judiciary system is not adequate in protecting journalists.

Journalist Khaled Dallaq was released on bail on January 3, as per the guarantee of the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate and according to instructions of the prosecution general. The journalist was accused to threaten a military official. This is the third accusation this journalist faces from the same official during the last one and half years. Khaled Dallaq has broken a record in the number of trials he had gone through. Until the writing of this report, he had been subjected to 98-persecution hearing, 65 court sessions, 4 trails in the general prosecution, and 6 cases between preliminary and appeal courts. Thus, he had been issued three verdicts, a 4-month jail sentence because of an article in Al-Wahdawi newspaper, an 8-months imprisonment, and a fine of 150,000 Yemeni Riyals. Only once was the ruling in his favor where he was given back his papers and car, which were confiscated by the security.

Dallq had been a regular visitor of courts for 10 years now, spending 362 days behind bars, 90 days of which he was imprisoned in one of the military units against the law.

A group of the Faithful Youth organisation of cleric Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi threatened on January 6, to kill journalists AbdulFattah Al-Batoul because of his writings against the group. However, he had not received any support and accused the state of not protecting journalists, despite the fact that he had reported the ministry of defense and the syndicate that he had received threats “to chop his head off like Saddam Hussain's head.”

On January 17, police from Al-Himyari police station arrested journalist Waleed Al-Sadah editor in chief of Al-Liwa Al-Akhdhar newspaper while on his way home.he was arrested on charges of publishing lies in an article his reporter Najeeb Al-Ghurbani, in which the Central Organsiation for Control and Audit was accused of corruption. The journalists were fined 50,000 Yemeni Riyals, yet they appealed the verdict.

The print and publication prosecution summoned on January 21 editor in chief of Annahar Newspaper Shihab Al-Ahdal who was accused of offending the judiciary system. He had published in his newspaper a story of a 16 years old murderer from Taiz who despite the forgiving of the victims family received the death penalty. The newspaper called on the judiciary system to reconsider highlighting violations in the case process.

On January 23 Mohammad Al-Ghubari correspondent of AL-Bayan UAE newspaper and another three journalists were assaulted by the security of the Prime Minister's office where the journalists came to cover the meeting between the Yemeni and Jordanian prime ministers.

On January 26 Foud Rashid member of the journalists syndicate in Mukalla was chased down by the criminal investigation director in the city because of his writings that criticise the criminal investigation. He was threatened by the director of criminal investigation to be charged with fake crimes and imprisoned.

Armed confrontations at Saba News Agency almost took place because of the bodyguards of Sheikh Khaled Misar member of parliament and the agency's security. The MP's guards argued with the condolences page editor on attaching military rank and post of a deceased relative of the Shiekh in the publication. The bodyguards left without getting into clashes although they threatened the editor.

On February 1, the General Prosecution referred the case filed by journalists Hadiz Al-Bukari and Rahma Hujaira as well as Yemeni Journalists Syndicate against Al-Bilad Newspaper, to the specialized court. The newspaper is accused of defaming the journalists and attacking their honor and integrity.

Deputy of the press and publication prosecution ordered the arrest on February 18, of journalist Sadeq Al-Garash editor in chief of Al-Zajel newspaper on grounds of defaming the editor of Al-Ayam newspaper.

The following day, Journalist in the state run 14 October Newspaper Sami Yousif complained that his newspaper's management is taking measures against him because of his writings criticizing the central organization for control and audit accusing it of corruption.

On February 25, after being stopped from publication as a hard copy and the sixth months imprisonment of its editor Abulkarim Al-Khaiwani, the website of Al-Shura Net newspaper was blocked. The website had reported on the war in Sa'ada in a way that did not please the government.

Support committees

Journalists have staged a number of demos and protests in support of their colleagues and in protest against the status of freedom of press in Yemen. The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate has lead many of these protests. On March 13 a number of journalists gathered at the syndicate in support of their colleagues such as Mohammad Mohammad Al-Maqaleh who had been attacked by anonymous armed men outside his home. The journalists also condemned the attack on Abulkarim Al-Khaiwani especially regarding his coverage of the war in Sa'ada north of Yemen.

Another attack took place against members of the syndicate Sami Ghaleb and Hamdi Al-Bukari by the Court of Appeals security.

Also the security of the cabinet attacked journalist Mohammad Al-Ghubari.

In the support meeting at the syndicate, the journalists also condemned what their colleague Abid Al-Mahthari editor n chief of Al-Diyar newspaper who had been chased down by influential parties and whose car was stolen by them without the state taking any action.

Al-Mahthari has also received a suspended one-year jail sentence because of his coverage of the war in Sa'ada, where the verdict was issued.

Journalists running the online Marib Press news site had been regularly threatened because of their liberal reporting. Also Al-Shoura net website of the Yemeni Socialist Party had been blocked.

Simultaneously, journalist Zaid Al-Ghabiri was attacked by military police in Taiz, and the journalist community demanded an investigation of the attack.

Broadcasting journalist in Hudaidah radio complained that her program called “heya wa howa” because demanding her rights from the station since her employment in 1993. She was fired and prevented from approaching the station building and was assaulted by the station manager.

On March 18, members of the Yemeni Parliament demanded brining in the Minister of Interior for questioning regarding violence and assaults against journalists. Aidaros Al-Naqib, head of the socialists block at the Parliament criticised the increasing targeting of journalists by state security. Editor in chief of Al-Wahdawi newspaper had been attacked by security men along with one of his editors Moath Al-Maqtari.

Sami Ghaleb and Hamdi Al-Bukari of the Syndicate were also attacked because of their profession as members of the syndicate's main committee.

Next day, Ahmed Al-Shalafi correspondent of Al-Jaseerah said that two of the political security men assaulted him and threatened to do worse. He was covering a protest by the Somali refugees along with the cameraman.

In the same day, Al-Ayam newspaper's journalist Raid Al-Jahafi was harrased by the director of criminal investigation in Sa'ada where the journalist is based because of his reporting on the war.

On March 20, Al-Mustaqila Newspaper was threatened by fax that an organisation called Ibad Al-Rahamn Movement will “blow the building down”.

Article 19 and press laws

On March 22, ARTICLE 19, the international organized concerned with freedom of press organized in cooperation with the Yemeni Women Media Forum a workshop in order to create a media working group on the current media legislation in Yemen. The local laws were evaluated and compared to standard laws and international rights treaties Yemen has signed, and recommendations were proposed for future action. The working group came out with three priorities:

– Reforming the current press code

– Creating a law on access to information

– Allowing private broadcasting

Women Journalists Without Chains organsiation condemned the Ministry of Information's decision of not granting the organsiation a licence to publish their own newspaper. Despite the application and the law that grants the organisation this right, the ministry has declined.

Freedom Square

Starting from Tuesday May 30, journalists and activities launched weekly sit-ins at the square between the Cabinet premises and the Ministry of Information. They called that area Freedom Square and it was used regularly after that for protests and demos.

The sit-in was the third regarding the banning of news sms services that used to be carried out by four media organsiations: Al-Ishtiraki Net, Al-Shoura Net, Nass Mobile, and Bila Qiyoud Mobile.

The specialized penalty court refused to release journalist AL-Khaiwani o June 20, who was arrested the same day and opted to keep him in custody for one week, for investigation purposes. The court did not charge the journalist with a specific crime, although it criticised his possession of paper and materials relating to the war in Sa'ada.