CPJ urges Clinton to raise press freedom concerns with Yemeni leader

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New York, April 3, 2000 —The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urges U.S. president Bill Clinton to put press freedom high on the agenda for his meeting with Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Washington tomorrow.

Since the end of Yemen’s 1994 civil war, the Yemeni government has followed the repressive example of its regional neighbors by steadily restricting the extensive press freedoms granted to local journalists following the unification of north and south Yemen in 1990. Last year, the government carried out a number of punitive measures against journalists, including arrests, prosecutions, censorship, and acts of intimidation.

This year has already seen new cases of censorship and harassment of local media. On February 22, a Sanaa court ordered the 30-day suspension of the opposition weekly Al-Wahdawi and permanently banned Al-Wahdawi contributor Jamal Amer from practicing journalism in Yemen. Amer had been charged with harming public interests, offending King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and damaging relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, based on an August 10, 1999 column in which he analyzed alleged power struggles within the Saudi royal family during the summer of 1999, and predicted that they would negatively affect the ongoing Yemeni-Saudi border dispute. Both sentences have been suspended pending appeal.

In September 1999, the opposition weekly Al-Shoura was indefinitely closed by court order for allegedly printing two separate versions of the same edition in violation of the law. The newspaper accused state security agents of printing the second edition themselves as a subterfuge. In October, the opposition weekly Al-Haq was suspended for 30 days for running an article that criticized administrative practices in southern Yemen. And on March 7, 2000, judicial authorities summoned the editor of the independent thrice-weekly paper Al-Ayyam for questioning about Al-Ayyam‘s published criticisms of authorities. He faces possible prosecution.

“The Yemeni government’s targeting of independent and opposition journalists shows a worrying indifference to press freedom,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “President Saleh’s visit to Washington is the perfect opportunity for the Clinton administration to voice its concern about the deterioration of press freedoms in Yemen, particularly in light of efforts to improve bilateral relations in recent years.”