Tolerance, Independent Judiciary and True Environment of Free Press: All What Matters ! [Archives:2000/10/Focus]

March 6 2000

Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Managing Editor

Last Thursday, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate(YJS) hosted a gathering of the Yemeni journalists to denounce the verdict of the court against Jamal Amer and the Al-Wahdwai newspaper. The meeting is a good step for journalists to come together and defend the oppression of their noble mission. The participants highlighted many important issues concerning the free press drive in the country. The meeting is a civilized way to express protest against the continuous flagrant throttling of the press. Let me here try to show where the free press problem lies.
I believe that the concept of tolerance is one of the most important ingredients of a true democracy. It refers to the readiness of accepting the other’s views and opinions. It also shows an open spirit to accept criticism. However, our rulers are still obsessed with the arch concept of totalitarian mentality which no longer has a room in our time. That is, they have not got along with this civilized democratic value. They do not have an open spirit that is ready to admit mistakes and thus make corrections. Usually, honest civil servants never feel afraid of criticism. But most of our officials are corrupt and therefore, they feel afraid of the press and consider journalists their enemies. Yes folks, some of our officials have not yet comprehended that tolerance and transparency are vital for any democracy to flourish and go ahead. In a democracy there is nothing under the table; everything is played openly. Therefore, they should understand that democracy is not merely a slogan. It is rather a practice on the ground. We can never claim to be democratic as long as we deem the difference of opinions breeds enmity and hostility. We should wake up and understand this is the time in which the free expression can no longer be oppressed and that the free press drive can never be stopped or even slowed down since it has become a global value.
2- Independent Judiciary
It is also civilized that the government resorts to the court to sort out its problems with the press. However, this is not enough if the whole fabric of the judicial system is not independent and fair since it is the only instrument that can set justice to the oppressed and afflicted in the society. In other words, unless the judiciary is independent, resorting to the court becomes futile. It is a waste of time and effort, isn’t it? Judges do not abide by the law. They are influenced by political considerations.
So, the lack of independent judiciary affects not only journalists but also every individual in the society. In this case, people take the law into their hands as it is not respected by the judges themselves, its real protectors. This is why the crime ratio is growing high dramatically. People either murder, blunder or kidnap to blackmail the government which has been so lenient with the troublemakers and law breakers. This state of powerlessness of the state has embarrassed it a lot before its friends and virtually hit the economy of the country. The latest incident is the kidnapping of the Polish Ambassador last Wednesday. The government is seen to show muscles only against journalists.
3- True Environment of Free Press
Free media is also one of the indispensable elements of democracy. A society can never be democratic without functioning free press. Journalists are occasionally beat up and harassed because the current Law of Press and Publication does not grant them any legal power. The law should be amended so that journalists get their legal privileges that honor their profession. They also have to have a law that organizes their profession. This is because they are now prosecuted not in accordance with the Law No. 25 of 1990 for Press and Publication but according to the Penal Code which deems them criminals. What is happening these days to Jamal Amer is a vivid example of the oppression against the existence of a true environment of free press.
Journalists are not also respected by the policemen and military officers. They are deemed as spies and troublemakers and are even looked down upon.
The journalist’s mission is to search for the truth and make it reach the public. We still remember what happened to Princess Diana. She died in an accident in which she was pursued by journalist. The police did not interfere and stopped the journalists. They honor their the position of journalists. But in Yemen it is entirely different. Journalists are beat up and harassed sometimes because of trying to take photos for a particular incident.
Let me tell you what happened to me last week. I went to report the murder incident of the Dutch expert at the Small Enterprises Development Project. I could reach the murder place. I tried to take a photo for the murdered but I was not allowed by the policemen. I tried to convince them that I am a journalist and that is my job but in vain. One of the soldiers tried to confiscate my camera. Furthermore, their officer told them to kick me out not only of the room but also of the whole premises of the project. Not only that, one of the soldiers started abusing me telling his friends to throw me off the building. Accordingly, I left the place asking myself in soliloquy about what free press we are claiming to have. The press can not work well if the environment of free press is not available.
As policemen in charge of prisons should be given training courses about how to deal with prisoners, I think all policemen should also be given courses about how to respect journalists. But then, I told myself if the big guys themselves do not have this virtue, how the ordinary policemen can have it.
In conclusion, journalists will not be able to do their job properly well as long as tolerance, independent judiciary and true environment of free press are available. These three elements are essential parts of any prosperous democratic system, aren’t they.