The Plight of the Yemeni Press [Archives:2000/07/Law & Diplomacy]

February 14 2000

Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Managing Editor
Yemen lived a long time after the 2 revolutions in the 1960s under the grip of one-party system, in both the North and South, with democracy being non-existent. After unification, in 1990, Yemen adopted democracy and political pluralism in government. This has led to the emergence of political parties and the launching of publications and a free press, to a certain extent. For almost four years newspapers have been able to produce brave reports on different issues, criticizing the rulers openly. But after the Civil War of 1994, between the People’s General Congress (PGC) and the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the Yemeni press was put into turmoil, through various forms of harassments and problems.
However, we shall first say that the situation of journalists is very miserable. They are among the poorest in the country. Calls have been raised to improve their situation but to no avail.
For the last few years, their syndicate has not been working well because of the desire of the political parties to control it. It was only in 1999 that an election for a new board for the syndicate was conducted. But it was boycotted by many journalists, particularly those working for the opposition newspapers since they accused the government of seeking to controlling syndicate.
But the main ordeal facing the newspapers, mainly the opposition and independent ones, since 1995 is the cases that are being filed against them by the Ministry of Information from time to time. Ironically Ð and this is a hopeful sign Ð we find that most of the newspapers won the cases against the Ministry of Information . Al-Shura (mouthpiece of the Federation of Popular Forces), now blocked down since 26th September 1999, was brought to justice in August 1996, May 1997, September 1998 and March 1999.
Al-Wahdawi, mouthpiece of the Unionist Nasserite Party, was brought to justice in June 1998. Al-Thawri, mouth piece of the Yemeni Socialist Party, stood before court in January 1997 and June 1998.
A case was also filed against Al-R’ay Al-A’am (Independent) in September 1998 and it was blocked down several times. The last one was on 2/12/1998. Yemen Times, independent, was also brought to justice in 1998. Cases were also filed against other newspapers like Al-Sahwah (Islah party), Ray (Sons of Yemen League Party), Al-Haq, Al-Ayam.
For this, one could observe the panorama of events concerning the press in Yemen. It is an ongoing legal battle between the Ministry of Information, on one side and the partisan and independent newspapers, on the other. Now, the plight of the press in Yemen is obvious to anyone.
The other major headache faced by the media in Yemen is the barrage of harassments Yemeni Journalists are going through. Yemen journalists, thinkers, and opinion makers are subject to different sorts of harassments.
They are imprisoned, beaten up, threatened. Dr. Abu Baker Al-Saqqaf and Mr. Zain Al-Saqqaf were ruthlessly beaten up in 1996. Some are subject to abrupt and unusual heart attack, like Abdulhabeeb Salem Muqbil (1996). Dr. Abdulazziz Al-Saqqaf (Yemen Times Chef Editor) was killed in a car accident in June 1999.
I will try hereby make a list of those journalists who were harassed, detained and fined in 1999 alone.
1) Mr. Hasan Al-Zaidi, the correspondent of Yemen Times and other newspapers in the governorate of Marib, was detained in 16/12/1998. He was released in 23/12/1999.
2) Mr. Noman Qaid Saif, ex-chief editor of Al-Shura was detained in 23/2/1999 by the Political Security Office due to publishing a report on the YR 150 millions spent on buying cars.
3) Mr. Saleh Al-Humaidy, an editor in al-Shura, was detained on 24/2/1999.
4) On January 14, 1999, masked people kidnapped Mr. Mujahid Saleh Al-Hadri, the brother of the acclaimed writer Mohammed Ali Hadri. They beat him up thinking that he was. Mohammed!
5) Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, founder of Yemen Times, was subject to badmouthing from Al-Mithaq newspaper, the PGC’s mouth piece and 26th September Newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Military. The two papers accused him of being an agent of Western Imperialism, of representing the international interests of Zionism. That was mentioned in a letter published in issue 5/1999 of the Yemen Times.
6) Mr. Shawqi Al-Qadhi, a mosque preacher, was detained on Thursday, Feb. 18 ,1999 on account of criticizing the government in one of his sermons.
7) Mr. Abdulatif Kutabi, Al-Haq Chief editor, was detained on March 2, 1999.
8) Haitham Al-Gharib, a journalist, was detained nearly on Feb. 25, 1999.
9) Mr. Jamal Al-Samit, a journalist working for Al-Gumhuryah, an official newspaper published in Taiz city, was imprisoned on August 3, 1999 and was released only some time back. He was accused of sending reports to foreign and local media reporters about military force attack on Quradah, a village in Taiz.
10) Mr. Hassan Al-Udaini, Al-Asboo Chief Editor was subject to a kidnapping attempt by people dressing in military uniform on against 3, 1999. As a reaction, Mr. Al-Udainin filed a case against the Minister of Interior.
11) Jamal Amer, Al-Wahdawi correspondent in Ibb was detained in August 1999 and was interrogated on the phone by the Minister of Interior himself because of publishing an opinion article about Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, Mr. Amer filed a case against the Minister of Interior.
12) On August 4, 1999 Serah primary court passed a verdict concerning Hisham Bashraheel (Al-Ayam newspaper chief editor) and Ali Haitham Al-Gharib. The verdict stated a suspended 10 month imprisonment to Mr. Al-Gharib and a suspended 6 month term in prison to Mr. Bashraheel and a fine of YR 5,000.
From this only one can comprehend the predicament of the Yemeni journalists and difficulties they face. They have to practice giving lip service to the people in authority, otherwise they won’t be able to obtain their blessing. The list presented previously is enough to make one able to read between the lines and understand the ordeals of the Yemeni journalists and press.
Another important point that should be highlighted here is this. We find that the Yemeni society is still troubled by the high rate of illiterate people, estimated roughly at 80%. In addition, most of the Yemeni population (around 87%) live in the countryside, where newspapers reach are inaccessible. This indicates that the role of newspapers in informing the people is still very limited. Hence, the government monopoly over the TV and Radio stations should come to an end, since these two devices play a major role in shaping public opinion, particularly in the countryside. So, to boost its democratization further, Yemen needs the launch of free and independent electronic media. Unless the people are adequately informed, they will not be able to take decisions that are of great impact on their life.
Inspite of all these difficulties Yemen is still better than other Arab countries clamming to be democratic, for it enjoys a little freedom of expression and speech, though there are some red lines one should not cross. However, this does not justify the harassment that people in the media and opinion-makers are going through, does it?!!!