Third annual worldwide press freedom index shows Yemen sliding downwardsYemen has bad attitude toward press freedom [Archives:2004/785/Front Page]

October 28 2004

The recently published annual worldwide press freedom index showed that Yemen's position has dropped from 103 in 2002 to 136 this year. Yemen's position has not improved since 2003 as both 2004 and 2003 witnessed a radical decline in the level of freedom of the press in the country according to the index.
The organization issuing the index, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF), has already expressed concern over negative developments in Yemen's record freedom of the press, which have contributed to listing Yemen even after Afghanistan (97, and Somalia (130) in terms of its attitude towards press freedom.
With journalist Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani the editor of Al-Shoura newspaper still in prison and a number of publications suspended or closed down, it is expected that Yemen's reputation will suffer even further through the report to be published next year unless major steps to prevent this decline are taken.
In its specific report on Yemen for 2003's incidents, RFS said, “Yemeni journalists are personally and legally harassed and threatened to discourage them from reporting on sensitive topics such as corruption, human rights violations.”

Calls for Al-Khaiwani's release
This RFS report has been used extensively by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate to express its concern over the declining level of freedom of the press in the country as it had been circulating lately reports on harassments and attacks against Al-Khaiwani, who was demanded by the prosecutors to apologize for his writings in a recent session as a condition for his amnesty and consequent release.
In a statement jointly released by the syndicate and the Center of Journalists' Freedoms, grave concerns were expressed regarding “the unexplainable ignorance of the Yemeni government to the calls of the local and international community to release Al-Khaiwani who has been subject to brutal treatment in his prison cell.”
“Such action is causing tremendous damage to Yemen's image in the region and the world.” the statement said.
The statement concluded with call to the Ministry of Information to “stop using twisted means to punish journalists by filing lawsuits that are used by the authorities to subject journalists to unjust sentences.”
“We hope that the ministry would implement the press and publication law in a way that would preserve and promote freedom of expression and not the opposite.”

Decline of freedom in Yemen
A number of Arab countries were worse than Yemen in respect to freedom of the press. Those countries were Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, Iraq, Djibouti, and UAE. However, the newly issued report is a major disappointment in the eyes of donor countries and local and international observers and organizations, who had bet on Yemen's model as an emerging democracy in the region and thought that the level of freedom of the press in Yemen would rise rather than decline. The report had given positions that are better than Yemen for a number of Gulf countries in the index, including Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.
The report mentioned that several incidents of physical attacks, harassment and obstruction against journalists were reported in 2003. “Mass arrests, torture and execution are still a feature of Yemeni life and parliamentary and institutional human rights guarantees have been curtailed since 2002.” the report said.

Middle East at the bottom
It was not only Yemen that was harshly criticized in the report. The report noted that the level of press freedom in the Middle East as a whole was also in decline. In fact, the title of the recent report by RFS was, “East Asia and Middle East have worst press freedom records”.
The report is expected to trigger more action that would support democratizing the region as reformists have been requesting the international community to help support their efforts in reforming laws that hinder democratic development.
It also reinforces the opinion that lack of information and access to free media has been a major factor behind the poor level of development in the Arab world, particularly in the field of human development.