Out-dated mentality needs to change [Archives:2004/745/Viewpoint]

June 10 2004

While covering the court hearings of the 15 suspects on trial for their alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Yemen, a journalist of ours was taking a photograph of the building and people while an armed civilian held him from behind. “Don't sell your country for a few dollars, you Yemen Times journalist!” he told one of our journalists who was standing near the door of the court. The person who did this to our journalist turned out to be a Political Security Organization member who held a pistol and prevented the journalist from taking more pictures.
With shock and dismay, our journalist replied by asking how in earth can he accuse him of selling his country for a few dollars simply because he was doing his job. “I felt that this PSO guy had an idea that I would sell the photos to the CIA or FBI? How ridiculous?”
In fact, this PSO member is only one of thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands who think in exactly the same way. They are stuck with the out-dated mentality that photographs are prohibited. They are still living in the era of totalitarianism and oppression. They are not the only ones, almost all members of the military and police think the same way too. Many believe that preventing a journalist of taking photographs is a noble duty and a glorious achievement. They recall the times of the past when journalists of non-governmental media were prohibited from working freely, without restrictions or prior licenses. The mentality is widespread among the authorities, who have not changed despite the fact that 14 years have past since Yemen was transformed into an emerging democracy.
It is a pity that little has changed in the way these individuals think. Perhaps it is the educational system they go through? Or it may possibly be because of the teachings of their superiors who may continue to think that journalists are mere trouble makers and that everything about the state should be concealed from them.
Regardless of from where it originates, this mentality must change. We are now in a new millennium where transparency and the right to know are the themes. Our country has committed itself to opening up to the new waves and trends of a more democratic and transparent world, and that is why such treatment of journalists is no longer acceptable.
We remember many activities held in Sanaa, Taiz and other cities by governmental and non-governmental organizations training police and military personnel and introducing them to the concept of human rights and the liberties of citizens. But the problem is that most of those courses are done on a voluntary basis and hence do not have the desired effect on these forces. In other words, what those courses include doesn't seem to be compulsory for the trainees and unless strict orders or certain punishments are applied from above for violating human rights, they will never abide by them.
Furthermore, a change in mentality also needs to be applied from top to bottom, starting from military chiefs to the base. The high-ranking military officers need to set up an example for others to follow. Only then will regular soldiers realize that what they did was wrong as their leader has come out against it.
It is a gradual process that needs time and patience to be achieved. But certain steps need to be taken to guarantee that Yemeni citizens and particularly journalists are not harassed in the way our journalist was, as they are the ones who are serving their nation by practicing their jobs with dignity and honor by conveying information to citizens transparently. In reality, the ones who work to prevent the knowledge of citizens and work to veil information are the ones that are working against the national interest.