The World Press Freedom Day: The Yemeni Press Between Censorship& Elastic Regulations [Archives:2001/19/Reportage]

May 7 2001

Jalal Al-Sharaabi
Yemen Times
Yemen celebrated with the world the World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May after more than a decade has passed since its unity. This time the celebration is more vivid for it comes at a time journalists are celebrating the revival and activation of the role of their syndicate, as well as the appointment of Mr. Jamal Al-Awadhi, a well-known journalist famous for his love and respect for Journalists and journalism, as Minister of Information.
The number of cases filed against newspapers has remarkably fallen down this year. However, this does not mean that there has been no rude interference by security elements, especially political security officers against newspapers and journalists. There has also been a development in the journalistic career. Scholars and researchers can go back to the beginning of the experience in 1990 to compare.
The legislations related to press and journalism in Yemen provide a wide margin for press freedom, but some limits are being sometimes imposed by some authorities. Many calls have been risen to remove and cancel a number of ambiguous articles in the press law since the issuance of the law in 1990. Many lawyers and journalists deplore the misinterpretations of the law which show no role of the authorities concerned and consequently make adoption of verdicts of religious leaders against newspapers and journalists easier. In 2000, a verdict was passed to whip two journalists for assaulting Sheikh Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani and another journalist was banned from writing for a year in addition to fining him. It is to be stressed here that violations occur not because of some shortcomings in the law but are rather made be Sheikhs and other influential personalities. It has happened when some tribes attacked some newspaper’s offices because of publishing what they did not like.
Press VS Censorship and the Ruler
A number of cases have been filed against some of opposition and official newspapers. The previous year witnessed a heated argument between the GPC and its old ally, the Islah, over the Al-Thaqafiah newspaper which republished a story by Mohammed Abdulwali. Some leaders in the Islah party said that the story included what was described as anti-God statements. Similarly, Al-Hikmah magazine which is published by the Yemeni Authors Union was brought to court for publishing another story said to abuse God’s identity. The Al-Osbu Independent newspaper was blocked by the PSO for more than 8 hours and the distributor as well as the representative of the paper were held captive. The Ministry of Information also blocked temporarily the issue No. zero of the Human Rights newspaper under the pretext of not being notified about the issuance. The Al-Shomu newspaper is still under trial procedures following a case filed by the Ministry of Information. Its Editor-in-Chief had spent two days in prison last April. A case has been also filed against Abdulkareem Al-Khiwani, chairman of the Political Office of the Al-Haq party and Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ommah newspaper for publishing an article about Adam, the anatomist at the Faculty of Medicine which was said to have assaulted a number of government officials. There are also other cases against the Al-Wahdawi, the Al-Thawri, etc., newspapers.
Local, Regional and International Calls for More Press Freedom
On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, many organizations concerned with press freedom called upon government to protect the press from any violations. A press release by the Arab Journalists Union urged upon government to protect journalists and to bring an end to the illegal arrest campaigns against them. A release by Journalists San Frontiers condemned a lot of activities and practices against journalists such as imprisonment. Another release in New York stated that more than 1000 journalists died last year.
The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate issued last year a report containing detailed information on the restrictions imposed on journalists, the cases filed against them and the violations of the Yemeni press. All previous releases urged for the creation of a suitable environment for journalistic activities as well as making information accessible to journalists.
Yemeni Press in the Reports of Amnesty International
The Amnesty International Report for 2000 mentions a number of violations and harassment as practiced against some journalists. It indicated arresting some journalists. In 1999 a number of newspapers were suspended. Similarly, the Report for 1999 listed a number of similar violations against the opposition and independent newspapers. However, such reports are not as accurate as they should be, for they usually contain violations by official organizations or personalities which are not as important as those ignored ones.
According to the Amnesty International Report for 1999, 2000, 2001 the organization has sent many letters to the Yemeni government in this regards to which it has not received any response.