Yemen’s press is now less free than in Afghanistan and SomaliaNew calls for Yemen to respect press [Archives:2004/786/Community]

November 1 2004

By Mohammed al-Qadhi
Yemen Times Staff

Reporters sans Froentieres (RSF) (Reporters Without Borders) urged the Yemeni authorities to release Abdulkareem Al-Khaiwani, Editor-in-Chief of the Opposition weekly al-Shura, jailed since Sept. 5. In a press statement issued Thursday, the RSF accused the Yemeni authorities of “arbitrary censorship,” urging them to reinstate the licenses of two newspapers, Al-Neda and Al Hurriye, which have been unable to publish for the past few weeks.
“The authorities should keep their promises to respect press freedom”, the organization said, recalling that President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged in June to “work to put an end to prison sentences for press offences, which would be a big step forward for press freedom in Yemen.”
The statement said that RSF's appeal followed a press release by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) Wednesday criticizing “the government's lack of sincerity” and deploring an “unprecedented wave of press freedom violations that is likely to ruin all the progress accomplished since unification in 1990.”
The YJS's statement also deplored the impact of Al-Khaiwani's imprisonment, saying it had created “a dangerous environment for all journalists with governmental, party and privately owned media.”
The offices of the new weekly Al-Neda were closed on Oct. 15 by the information ministry on the grounds that it was two days late in bringing out its first issue, which was meant to appear on Oct. 13. Editor Sami Ghaleb told the Yemen Times last week the closure was a “major aggression” and discriminatory as many other newspapers come out irregularly in Yemen.
“It seems the real reason for its closures was the fact that the first issue tackled sensitive subjects such as the international campaign for Al-Khaiwani's release and the splits between the different wings of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC),” RSF statement said.
A few days earlier, the information ministry suspended the license of the Al Hurriye newspaper for an indefinite period on the official grounds that it had changed its logo without permission.
Editor Akram Abdulkarim Sabra told Reporters Without Borders the newspaper wanted to change its format and logo to mark its 25th anniversary. “We were amazed and outraged by this totally disproportionate decision, which was just a pretext for punishing the newspaper,” he said.
Meanwhile, Al-Khaiwani's newspaper, Al-Shoura, was suspended for six months when Al-Khaiwani was sentenced to a year in prison for allegedly libeling President Saleh.
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, 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.