Yemen drops thirteen places in RSF Index [Archives:2008/1202/Local News]

October 27 2008

Salma Ismail
SANA'A, Oct 26 ) Independent and opposition journalists battled major restrictions and prosecution in 2007, with a dozen arrested and others physically attacked in the street, causing Yemen to slip thirteen places in the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (French: Reporters sans fronti'res, or RSF), which covers the 12 months from September 2007 to September 2008.

The report by the Paris-based media organization, issued on Wednesday, stresses that it is not economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom and ranks Yemen 155th out of 169 countries.

According to the report, at least a dozen stringers for foreign satellite TV stations were banned from sending out material on social unrest and opposition activity in the last quarter of 2007 in Yemen. They included Hammud Munasser, of the Saudi station Al-Arabiya, who was arrested, had his videotapes seized and was interrogated for an hour on the road between Sana'a and Khamer, where about 18,000 people protested on 18 November about the government's economic policies. A crew from the Qatari station Al-Jazeera was stopped on 10 December from traveling to the southern province of Lahj to cover an opposition rally.

According to the report, the Yemeni government targeted journalists like Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, former editor of the weekly Al-Shura (suspended in 2005) was arrested in June and held for a month before being freed for health reasons. He was prosecuted before the state security court (which specializes in counter-terrorism) for “putting out news likely to undermine army morale” and faces the death penalty if convicted. He is accused of having links with rebels in the north and has appeared in court with 14 others charged with terrorism.

The report fails to mention that following an international advocacy effort Al-Khaiwani walked out of a Sana'a prison on September 25 after being granted a residential pardon.

Among the violent incidents that RSF said caused Yemen to drop in its rankings in the index was when a dozen armed men allegedly arrived in military vehicles at the offices of the weekly Al-Sharaa on 30 July and threatened to kill editor Naif Hassan, who was not there. The attack came two weeks after the defense ministry filed a suit against the paper after it printed articles about the fighting in the northern province of Saada. The paper was founded in June 2007.

Ali al-Assadi, editor of the weekly Al-Adwaa, was beaten unconscious in Sanaa on 12 December by thugs with sticks and pickaxes. He said his attackers wore army uniforms.

According to the 2008 report, “The post-9/11 world is now clearly drawn estabilized and on the defensive, the leading democracies are gradually eroding the space for freedoms. The economically most powerful dictatorships arrogantly proclaim their authoritarianism, exploiting the international community's divisions and the ravages of the wars carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism.”

The United States is now (36th) behind countries like Mali, Namibia, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the Czech Republic, Ghana and South Africa.

The same six Middle East countries that are near the bottom of the world press freedom index every year have confirmed their status this year again. Free expression “continues to be no more than a dream”” in Iraq (158th)