New draft law: Yemeni press ordeals [Archives:2006/937/Reportage]

April 13 2006

By: Faisal Al-Safwani
During 2004 and 2005, cases filed against journalists and journalism neared 200. Many verdicts of varying sentences were issued and seven newspapers were shut down. Moreover, the government issued a new draft press law; therefore, the following records viewpoints of the journalism community and interested individuals about the new press law.


Yemen's first Press and Publications Law was issued in 1990 and since then, journalism has gone through three stages, explained as follows:

The first stage (1990-1994) witnessed issuance of more than 50 newspapers enjoying freedom of publication, particularly party-affiliated newspapers. Analysts attribute the brilliant press situation during this initial stage to political and military semi-balance Yemen experienced at that time; however, there was no respect for press freedom.

During the second stage (1994-2001), the press worked within restricted scopes, which it could not go beyond.

Following the Sept. 11 events, the third stage was a period of press freedom, as many newspapers began to go beyond the restricted scopes. Others began to play the role of monitoring government apparatuses and revealing their illegal practices. Newspapers began shedding light on corruption cases and illegal practices by government officials.

Current situation

Due to regional conditions and international moves supporting press freedom, government institutions resorted to the judiciary. Through Press and Publications Prosecution, it took many legal actions against journalists and writers, some of whom served sentences while others still await sentencing.

Concerning newspapers, Al-Shoura weekly was closed for a year and half, Al-Tajamu for six months and Al-Usbou for three months, while Al-Qabbeita Magazine was shut down last year. Three private newspapers recently were closed and their licenses withdrawn under ministerial decision for republishing the Prophet Mohammed cartoons.

As journalism's relations with official parties exacerbated, the government issued the new draft press law, discussing it in last December's Al-Shoura Council. Regarding the new law, lawyer Abdulaziz Al-Samawi stated, “Legislation related to journalism and expression issues are merely restrictions helping the ruler enslave the ruled. Abuse of these rights has become permissible and anything permissible requires legislation or a law. Under such legislation in effect in Yemen and other Arab nations, regimes shut the mouths of the public and prevent citizens from claiming their rights or basic needs.”

Al-Samawi continued, “The law includes unclear sentences and ambiguous clauses, e.g., Article No. 13 states that no journalist should be questioned about his opinion writing or any information he publishes unless his work violates the law.” The secondary clause exposes journalists to interrogation, thereby canceling what was mentioned in the main clause.

Article No. 18 states that no journalist should be dismissed, transferred to another profession, suspended from work, prevented from writing or held to account, except by limits approved by law and operating systems.

Here, one notices that violation is considered as legislation permitting journalists' transfer to other professions, suspending them from work and preventing them from writing. These acts are not under law, but under systems in effect and any ministerial or administrative decision by the Ministry of Information is among such systems.

Regarding harmony between Yemen's press law and international conventions, legal writer Yasin Nasher said, “The press law is not in line with international human rights legitimacy and therefore, contravenes it.”

For instance, Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article No. 9 states, “Every individual has the right to enjoy freedom of opinion and expression and this includes his/her right to express oneself without harassment.” Everyone has the right to pursue, receive and transfer thoughts to others with the help of any means.

It is known that Yemen's Constitution confirms work in compliance with U.N. conventions and Article No. 6 of the declaration. One notices that Yemen's press law violates international conventions, contravenes the constitution and imposes restrictions on the press and freedom of expression. It employs ambiguous elastic clauses with senseless meanings, coupled with restrictions included in the law's executive bylaws.

The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate held a Dec. 14 a mass meeting to discuss the draft press law, with the majority of journalists rejecting it. During the meeting, Abdulbari Taher commented, “I know nothing about the official insistence to issue a new press law. Meanwhile, the government deliberately issued an arms-bearing ban.” Mohamed Al-Azizi was of the opinion that the new press law aims to bury alive remaining press freedoms and accused the syndicate of desiring to pass the new draft.

Sami Ghaleb believes the new press law aims to frame journalism within Islamic ideology and constitutional principles of the community, the state and the revolution's achievements. He stated that the journalism community strongly opposes the new draft press law. “We often find official insistence to issue the law while we never are sure of the consequence of the new draft press law. This causes us to expect a future Yemeni press battle for the sake of rectifying laws to cope with international changes and fit the profession's liberties. “For [Yemeni] journalism to advance to the level of journalistic work and have an effective role in society, we must work hard to modify the law first and then put it into effect,” he concluded.