Press goes ahead despite obstacles [Archives:2007/1087/Opinion]

September 20 2007

By: Mohammed Al-Asa'adi
Yemeni is considered one of the poorest countries in the region, according to a human development index released by the United Nations Development Program in 2005. But the country has taken serious steps toward democracy, compared to the neighboring states.

The reunification of the two parts of Yemen in 1990 made emergence of real democracy possible but in a community prevailed by tribalism and mentality of the totalitarian regime. But as this community has no place for the state of law and order, and good governance, the democratic move has slowed down and stumbled.

The legal violations the government committed in my case and other cases related to press freedom and human rights confirms the availability of authentic problems in our political system, the most prominent of which is the absence of independent judiciary. This makes the media work in such an environment very risky. Although the Yemeni constitution ensures the freedom of expression, public freedoms and respect for human rights, the past 16 years saw a very slow development in these areas. The 2006 presidential elections, fore example, were certified to by a large number of international and local observers as the first competitive presidential race in Yemen and the region. These observers acknowledged that media played a prominent role in the electoral process. Despite the fact that there are various problems in the country, Yemen remains the best from among the region's countries because people can criticize any infringements, violations and wrong policies.

Self-censorship development:

In a country, the population of which exceeds 21 million souls, there are more than 170 newspapers and magazines, most of which are headquartered and issued in Sana'a while the T.V. channels remain under the government's control. Printed press in Yemen fall into three types: official, party-affiliated and private.

The first two types of press don't often exercise a professional job, as most of them are engaged in attacking each other. Recently, there has been the birth of electronic press that flourished due to its low cost, and thanks to the Information Ministry's policy that stopped granting licenses to new newspapers and magazines.

Most of the local papers concentrates on the political issues while the number of readers remains comparatively slow due to many reasons, the most prominent of which is that illiteracy accounts for 50 percent of the population and more or less the same percent live below the poverty line.

Press and Publications Law No. 25 of 1990 bans criticism of the Statesman unless this criticism is constructive. It also prohibits the distribution of false and inauthentic information that may cause chaos and anarchy in the country, as well as incorrect stories intending to break Yemen's relations with other brotherly and friendly countries and anything paying harm to the culture, religion and traditions. By this law, journalists may face jail terms, and by other laws, they may be sentenced to death.

Despite all these obstacles, the Yemeni journalists sometimes rebel against the law. They criticize harshly and smile bravely in the face of adversity. The matter makes the Attorney-General at the Press Prosecution one of the extremely busy officials due to the large number of press cases in courts. In addition, the Ministry of Information exercises the power of whether to grant licenses to new newspapers or magazines or to prevent papers or magazines from operating in conformity with the current law. All these limitations, which the government exercises under the guise of the law, develop self-censorship on the part of journalists from day to day.

It has been three years now since the new draft press law was proposed, but it has been since then under discussion without any tangible progress. As the draft law attempts to implement directives and promises made by the Yemeni President to abolish the imprisonment of journalists, the jail sentence was replaced by a big fine. And, any journalists who cannot afford paying the fine will be thrown in prison. This is what happened to me in December 2006.

Source: Al-Sahwa Weekly