Mr. Anderson in the Press Conference:  ” The Answer to the Attacks on the Press is to Report More and More” [Archives:1999/29/Law & Diplomacy]

July 19 1999

At the beginning of the press conference, Mr. Anderson said, 
“We are here to support Yemeni journalists at their request, and to talk to the government to see if we can convince them that acting against the press is against their own principles, their own declared objectives. Yemen has had among the best records in the Arab world for the freedom of the press since its unification, but it has recently changed, and it is sad to see that record changing simply because there is an election campaign. This is not the way a country behaves that wishes to be a democracy and to show the world that it is an open society. We are very concerned about Yemeni journalists. No country can be free and a part of the world society that doesn’t have a free press. Regarding the actions we have seen happening in Yemen, they are discouraging and need to be turned around for the good of the Yemeni society, and not to please anyone else not because America or England or somebody else says you should do this, but because this is what Yemeni society wants.” 
Mr. Anderson added that: “The government condemned in strongest terms the harassment and threat against journalists and called on journalists who are threatened or arrested to report those incidents firmly so that they would be able to investigate. The Prime Minister told me, and I am quoting him directly, that ‘We are committed to the freedom of the press. We are doing our best. We are ready to listen to any report of violation. We are open to complaints and the courts are open.’ However, he said that the government will continue to file court cases against journalists and newspapers who print what he called lies. Interestingly enough, he said that the government has lost every case against journalists in the last ten years which he justified by the courts’ sympathies towards the journalists. Again he would not promise to end censorship of foreign publications, which he said is a matter of ethical not political considerations. Both the Prime and Deputy Prime Minister noted that this is a transition period and that nothing is perfect and everything needs time. As you know, we are here because we are concerned to support our colleagues in this time when it seems that there has been repression of the press which seems to limit the press and its freedoms. If the government means what it says, then we would expect to see such things become fewer and more infrequent. We believe that it is a challenge for Yemen in this period of transition to increase its freedom of the press, and not to decrease it. But it can not establish democracy without freedom of the press. Therefore, we urge the government to continue to move in the proper direction, to enhance freedom of the press and to make sure that attacks on press, especially threats and harassments by police and security forces are illegal under Yemeni law. The government must take action to stop them, and we urge Yemeni journalists and Yemeni newspapers to report all such threats and file complaints and to cooperate with and support each other and report any attacks they are exposed to. 
“Attacks on the press are designed to make you afraid, to make you stop reporting things, and the answer to such attacks is to report more, to report especially those attacks, to file charges, to demand investigations and to make sure that those illegal things are punished under Yemeni law. This is for your protection.” 
Asked about his evaluation of the freedom of the press between 1990 and 1999, Mr. Anderson noted: “The CPJ has been monitoring Yemen, as it does with all countries, since the unification. We have been encouraged by the movement towards democracy in the first few years of the unification. We think that was one of the most open and democratic nations in the Arab world, which is why we are specially concerned that since the rebellion and over the last few years the government seems to be withdrawing from that commitment to human rights.” 
Then, Mahbob Ali gave a speech in which he welcomed Professor Anderson to Yemen and also expressed his appreciation of the Alayyam editor-in-chief’s efforts to support this meeting. He asserted that without all the journalists’ cooperation there will be no progress in improving journalism and freedom of the press. He also expressed his ambition that the Yemeni journalists’ efforts will be appreciated by the whole world, because democracy and freedom of the press are twins; there can be no democracy without freedom of the press and vice versa. 
“It is necessary that you take that step and keep moving toward a real and definite implementation of democracy, and do not step back. As you said, there can’t be democracy without a free press, there are no rights that can be obtained unless the basic basis of free expression of ideas and freedom of the press is obtained. We met with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, and I must say that I am pleased with what they say. They both repeated the government commitment to a free press, to human rights and to democracy. They both condemned in the strongest words external legal harassment of the press. He also told me that the government has organized a forum to teach the police and security forces how to conduct investigations while observing human rights, and that the teaching would begin in September and October. These are wonderful words but we hope that they will be proved to be a reality. If they are true, then we expect to see a decrease in harassment. The biggest strengths that the press has in a democracy is other journalists. If you take these charges seriously and see that they are reported officially and demand investigations, then you may be able to stop them. If you do not report them, then you won’t be able to stop them. Every Yemeni newspaper should report every case of harassment, not only their own, but everyone else’s as well. This is not about politics. This is about freedom. And if the opposition newspapers are not free, soon the others will not be either. So you must take them seriously and support each other. We will continue to talk and be in contact and if there is any thing we can do you can be certain that we will do it. Mr. Anderson emphasized his point that, while words are good, actions are what really count. 
Asked whether there is an organization that can protect journalists in Yemen, Mr. Anderson answered: “The CPJ encourages and assesses journalists in any country. If you are attacked, file a case, and even if you are not responded to, file cases again and again.”