Yemeni journalists humiliated [Archives:2004/786/Viewpoint]

November 1 2004

A few months ago, Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani was an outspoken and popular writer. He was the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Shoura Newspaper, one of the prominent opposition papers. Today, he is an isolated individual in a small dark cell at the Central Prison of Sana'a, almost forgotten by everyone in the country and the world.
He feels let down by the local and international communities and friends in Yemen and abroad. If I didn't know Al-Khaiwani personally, I would have also thought that he would regret being a journalist from the start.
To remind him that some friends still think about him, I and some of his journalist friends visited him at prison, where he was thrown into for nothing but revealing his opinion and supporting a view that is probably approved by many other Yemenis.
Having been in prison for around two months, we felt that he needed our support and moral encouragement. Our objective from the visit was to comfort him and express solidarity and encouragement, because we all felt his case was dealt with unjustly, especially as he was deprived of fundamental right of a lawyer during his trial. We also wanted to ensure that his conditions are acceptable and that he was no longer assaulted as happened a few weeks ago.
As we arrived to the main gate, we were exposed to soldiers who were waving their sticks inhumanely to say 'stay in line' to the visitors. We seemed to be the only ones in suits and wearing glasses.
“Hey, you with the glasses!” a soldier whispered to me.
“If you want some assistance to get you in, I'm ready if you have what is needed.” He told me. I realized that the corrupt soldier wanted to get some cash to allow me into prison, but knowing that it is my right any way, especially as we arrived during the visiting period, I ignored the guy.
When we arrived to the entrance, one of the journalists with me said to the soldier, “Why do you use this stick! Can't you be more polite?” then I realized it was an invitation for trouble, as the soldier came to the journalist and asked “Who do you think you are, you little ***” Then I advised my friend to cool down as I realized that this dispute will only hinder our attempt to get into prison. He swallowed the humiliation and kept silent despite the harassment.
Later on, we were told that we cannot visit because the there were no more visiting cards. We asked how this could be as the visiting period is still not over. But when we noticed that others were getting in easily even without cards, we questioned again the reason. Then they said that journalists were not allowed in.
We were shocked. Then we said we are merely visiting as friends and regular citizens, and we are not there to report on anything. After all, we were not allowed to enter with any cameras, recorders, papers, and even pens. Then after a give and take, we realized that it was a matter of money, we insisted on going in by saying that this was our legal right and there is no such regulation to prevent any citizen from entering.
Later on, we were able to convince the men inside to allow us in so they gave us the cards and were on our way into the prison to see Al-Khaiwani.
Suddenly an angry and outraged tall man came out screaming, “No visits! No visits for journalists, no visits for Al-Khaiwani!”
We were surprised as to this reaction. We ignored him and continued our way and when we arrived to the inner gate, we found another soldier taking the visiting cards and tearing them apart and saying that visits are forbidden.
Being offended by such action we demanded to talk to the prison's manager. We later were disappointed to know that the man who was screaming to prevent visits was the manager himself. We approached him in an attempt to know why he prevented us from getting in, not only did he refuse to even talk, he actually pushed us towards the gate saying, “Get out!”.
We thought that if this is the person heading the prison, and if this is the way they treat journalists visiting a friend, and if this is the way soldiers look at journalists, then Al-Khaiwani must be facing hell inside. The syndicate issued an immediate press release about the incident, and expected some reaction.
But to sum it all up and show how we felt inside at that moment, I can only repeat the phrase said by one of the soldiers, who said, “Great, write about us, let the world know what we did to you. I'd love to have my name in the article personally. It is a great delight to treat you the way we did, and in fact, if you think you'll make any difference, then you are living in an illusion”.
That phrase is what made me realize that perhaps we are going back to military rule era where journalists and intellects are disrespected and it all falls to military might and domination. Are we returning to the stage we thought we had abandoned after unity in 1990 and the establishment of democracy? What about the last 14 years of democratic progress. Was it all a fantasy or a dream that we had to awake from?
If the answer is “yes”, perhaps it is time for me and all other Yemeni journalists to look for another job.