Symposium: More press rights, freedom and democratic change [Archives:2006/951/Front Page]

June 1 2006

By: Yasser Al-Mayasi
and Walid Al-Boks

SANA'A, May 31 ) A symposium on freedom of expression and democratic change was held Tuesday, organized by Women's Forum for Research and Training (WFRT) and Al-Wasat newspaper, in cooperation with FRONT LINE organization.

Several participants spoke at the symposium, including former head of the journalists syndicate Abdulbari Tahir, who confirmed that Yemeni press in particular and the democratic experience in general are undergoing transition from a totalitarian period to democratic practice, which subjects them to problems realized in rights abuse, suppression and legislation contributing to restriction and prohibition.

He assured that there is a real conflict, whose sides are corruption and tyranny on one hand, and the limited margin of freedom on the other. Tahir continued, saying that the press and publication draft law was one of the most prominent issues ever raised since the third journalists syndicate conference and continues to be journalists' priority in order to prevent undermining the existing margin of press freedom.

Ibrahim Khalid, secretary of the FRONT LINE establishment's Middle East section, said a country like Yemen is capable of being a country in which all enjoy their democratic rights and this qualifies it to be the earthly heaven. He confirmed the necessity of enlarging the democratic space to achieve a true democratic climate. “We learned that man is the real value in life.”

Khalid added that his establishment is ready to offer all support so that defense of freedom becomes necessary. He assured the necessity of establishing a Yemeni human rights reference whose duty is to be a link with international human rights communities. The reference also will coordinate the efforts of those working in human rights fields and wishing to express their viewpoint to the outside world. Khalid said his establishment not only records abuses, but is interested in human rights activists facing danger and working in austere conditions.

Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani, Chief Editor of Shora net web site, said democracy is one of the important results of unity; however, as an infant experience, it was leaning on a balance between the two unified sides. He said the experience suffered a setback with the 1994 war, following which the victorious side resorted to its ruling ex-unity totalitarian experience. Many political parties accepted the democratic margin under the pretext of protecting democracy.

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Al-Khaiwani considers the absence of prominent and effective political leadership, which weakened the press and journalism system, as a factor that pushed the press to the front line to face tyranny. It shed light on flaws and negative behaviors, which put it on the front line of official suppression and made the journalism career dangerous.

Media committee secretary Ali Al-Jaradi pointed out that there is legislative confusion in the press law, which approves executing and imprisoning journalists. He added that this is an important point, besides absence of freedom of expression, and he wondered about the value of democracy without freedom. Symposium participants assured the need to simplify the laws, saying that most laws that don't suit a democratic country should be revised.

He continued, saying that violence against journalists exposes any government claiming to be democratic, as well as the fact that oppressing journalists diminishes state prestige. Al-Jaradi said the syndicate has several claims regarding oppression, adding that oppression against journalists and journalism uncovers a government that claims to be democratic. He added that it's pointless to have political parties without free press.

Al-Jaradi proposed public courts for journalist abuses, proposing that each case have a separate file containing beating, threat and scare instances which journalists experience, all of which should be converted into penal cases against those committing such crimes.

Journalist Nabila Al-Hakimi divided the impediments to journalism in Yemen into three divisions: first is the authority's effort to disintegrate the journalists syndicate, the second is to confuse syndicate activity and the third is the overt urge of honorable writers that there should be more freedom of expression so that all media can express themselves freely, adding that there is no democracy without multi-media.