When press freedom becomes a farce [Archives:2005/872/Opinion]

August 29 2005

While the world is ostensibly heading for greater freedom, especially those of expression and speech, Yemen is heading backwards into the age of Orwellian double speech, double think and double dealing. The latest series of attacks against journalists in Yemen by elements of the multifaceted security apparatus of the state, do not lend credence to the claim that Yemen is embarking on an “irreversible course” towards democracy and human rights, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh continuously states. The problem it seems is that somebody is trying to fool someone, but who is doing the fooling? The Government? All along we have told the Government, if you want us to have democracy, you better be prepared for the worse. Democracy means that the Government and all its officials must be prepared to: 1) leave office whenever the people get tired of not just having them in office for so long, but also seeing their faces; 2) get hit with all the criticism that is necessary to keep them in check from abusing their power and getting away with murder, obstruction of justice and abusing their power to drain the government treasury from its scanty resources; 3) be prepared to face the public in hearings that will assess their performance and credibility and hopefully face parliament with ready answers for their misconduct in office. There is more to democracy than appeasing the World Bank, George W. Bush and others, who have unfortunately failed (willingly or unwillingly) to see what is really going on in Yemen, and continue to give the regime in Yemen all the praise and compliments it is not worthy of either on “the War on Terror” or on the democratic course that Yemen has embarked on. The truth of the matter is that the regime has lied to the Yemeni people by telling them that Yemen is now on an irreversible course to democracy. That democracy is, in fact, nowhere to be seen or heard except in the speeches of the President and the boring lengthy articles of the hired pens that never seem to get tired of filling the government papers with garbage that hardly anyone reads.

It is amazing that the regime will resort to beating up of some poor newspaper editors or journalists, who are making a point here and there that there is something wrong out there in Government land: there is corruption on a scale unprecedented in Yemen's history; there is wanton abuse of power that has made the common citizen without recourse to uphold their rights and seek justice from oppressive social and political dignitaries who take any peace of real estate by the square kilometers, whether it belongs to private citizens or the Government itself; there are double standards by which the Government is dealing with its citizens, and laws and regulations are only applicable against the weak and actually meant to make the lives of honest decent citizens as miserable as it can be; and that the Yemeni Government is not revealing how the billions of Yemeni Riyals in oil revenues (the original and the surplus) are being used and what is the Government doing to make sure that these funds are not being wasted before the limited oil resources we have are depleted. The Government must think these are valid points to make or otherwise it will not send its tireless thugs to beat up helpless journalists or to ransack their homes or offices. What kind of democracy is this? If it really saw to these points as valid points, then the Government has two choices: declare that we do not have democracy and that freedom of the press is over and done with and all the talk of a democratic future for Yemen is hogwash. The other choice is, rather than send a few illiterate hooligans to beat up dignified citizens, who see the public interest being devoured by criminal elements in the Government without regard to the rights of all the citizens and the possibility that they can be held accountable for their wanton rape of the resources of the people of Yemen, above the ground, below the ground and even in the air we breathem, the Government could straighten itself out and start cleaning itself of all the mediocre and selfish officials, who have shown themselves to be void of any sense of responsibility or patriotic conscientiousness.

If government officials have opted to take up careers of public service, they must be ready, willing and able to take all the criticism that will make sure that they do their job properly and not to think that the bully machine they have at their disposal will silence all free thinking Yemenis, who demand no more than for their leaders to act responsibly and honestly with themselves, God and their countrymen. It is a fair deal and most modern governments operate on that understanding.

This observer would like to echo the feelings of my fellow journalist in Yemen in the concern they have for the way the Government is interpreting the concepts of freedom and human rights: you have freedom to issue newspapers, but do not write about us or criticize us, for we are immune to criticism no matter what laws we break or what public assets we gobble up. This is absurd and no sane mind can go on watching all this pilferage of public resources and the degeneration of the most reasonable levels of accountability be treated with disdain. Yes, you will be criticized and yes you will be asked simple questions like where is all this splendor and wealth you are living in coming from? To be honest with the Government, we are not seeing any sweat coming out of Government officials who have amassed large fortunes, while the overwhelming majority of the population are being told just, watch, listen and die starving.

The beating up of Jamal Amir is another step that only makes Yemeni journalists more determined to work towards instilling press freedom in Yemen. On the contrary, this only adds to our determination to chase after corruption, government incompetence and abuse of power until Yemen is relieved of all those, who have sucked the blood out of the life of the overwhelming majority of its people. Enough is enough is all that we are saying and we are now going to say it louder than ever before. Thank you Jamal Amir, Ahmed Al-Haj and Mohammed Saleh Al-Dhahiry. We are right with you!