The brave hearts of Yemen [Archives:2005/875/Viewpoint]

September 8 2005

They don't have a specific war-zone where they fight their enemy, they don't wear particular uniforms during battle, they go beyond everyone's expectations in their struggle, and they pursue happiness by putting their lives and careers on the line.

Those are journalists, the true brave hearts of today's Yemen, and the unknown worriers fighting for all of us in tough times.

In times like these, where regimes tend to manipulate public opinion by using tools of propaganda, and by utilizing force and authority to curb any voice carrying the truth that they may dislike, journalists are in full-scale combat in a warfare of a different type; a war against oppressiveness and for the sake of conveying the truth.

A few days ago, I returned to Yemen after a 6-month training program in the U.S. During those months I worked at the Wall Street Journal -part of a program by the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships- and I learned a lot about journalism as a profession. But nevertheless, I was also able to better appreciate my work in Yemen and give all of those who were around me some sense of the challenges of working as a Yemeni journalist.

“There comes a time when you are in doubt whether you will ever come back to your home and see your family again. It happened to my father, to Jamal Amer [a journalist who was recently kidnapped and beaten], and to many others.” I told colleagues at the WSJ Washington DC bureau a few days before I returned to my homeland. “Your life is always at risk when you are a journalist in Yemen.”

Indeed, as journalists are being faced with an unprecedented wave of attacks and pressure by the regime and other elements in Yemen, those brave men and women continue to fight for their cause of conveying the truth to the people. They are fighting shoulder to shoulder fearing nothing but not giving out the whole truth and hoping that the world will listen to what they report and learn from what they go through. Those journalist, whom I believe should not include propaganda writers and reporters working to glorify the regime and attack their colleagues- are in a bloodless warfare.

And guess what?

They are winning.

The more frequently Yemeni journalists are harassed, and the more brutally they are attacked, they gain more sympathy and appreciation from people in the country and throughout the world. In fact, all that the regime is doing when it imprisons, kidnaps, or tortures a journalist, or when it suspends or closes down a newspaper, is showing the world that journalists are right and the regime is wrong.

Articles that revealed the staggering degree of corruption in higher levels of government, and others showing notable connections between them and profit making enterprises in the country and the world have all but created massive support for the press from those who defend freedom and want justice in a country worn to shreds by immense corruption, lawlessness, and disregard to human rights.

As I returned to my country and saw with my naked eyes how those courageous fighters are taking their fight to another level, I felt proud of being a Yemeni journalist more than any other time in my life.

I feel even greater pride when I realize that despite the lack of financial and human resources, and despite the journalist-hostile environment we are living in, journalism in Yemen is thriving and receiving unprecedented spiritual motivation from citizens and local and international organizations, which are rising for their support when needed.

Journalists in Yemen are learning that as long as they have the truth, they will always prevail in the very end.

History has shown once and again that brutal regimes will intensify their oppression of freedom by naming journalists as 'traitors' or 'disloyal elements working for foreign powers', particularly when those regimes are on the verge of collapse.

But today, this is not working in their favor any more as the reality around us is proving one undisputable truth that is emerging strongly and clearly: Journalists are winning, and are destined to win in their current battle. And if you are asking why, then the answer is clear: they have the truth, and even though it may take a lot of sacrifice and time, but those who side with the truth will ultimately prevail.

Perhaps, in a year or two, contributions of the Yemeni free press in changing the course of Yemen's history from decline to prosperity will be widely appreciated.

But even when a journalism-friendly environment is achieved in Yemen and if a new regime that supports freedom of the press and human rights is established, this regime will still have to be accountable to an even more professional and vigorous free press, which will continue to ask the tough questions and pursue the truth.

What could better describe the duties of journalists in Yemen than this quote from a dear journalist friend of mine who has been tortured and imprisoned several times, “It's a tough job Walid, but somebody has to do it!”