While Yemen is known for its vocal independent and opposition press, the practice of journalism carries considerable risk. In 2001, the government continued to use criminal prosecutions, censorship, arrests, and intimidation against the press.
For years, officials have prosecuted journalists under Yemen’s vaguely worded Press and Publications Law and Penal Code, which prohibits criticizing the president and bars any news that “jeopardizes the supreme interests of the state” or might cause “discrimination” on the basis of tribe, sect, or region. Offenders face stiff prison penalties, bans on practicing journalism, and the closure of their newspapers. In some cases, courts have sentenced journalists to flogging.
In May, an appellate court sentenced editor Seif al-Hadheri of the weekly Al-Shoumou to a six-month suspended prison term and a fine of 1 million Yemeni riyals (about US$6,250) for articles he wrote in 2000 accusing the education minister of financial impropriety. The newspaper was also suspended for one month, and al-Hadheri was barred from practicing journalism for one year.
Two weeks later, the Supreme Court upheld a 1997 lower court decision suspending the opposition weekly Al Shoura for six months. The Supreme Court also upheld a sentence of 80 lashes against the paper’s former editor, a punishment that he escaped only when the plaintiff dropped the suit.
Political Security officers and other state agents have earned a reputation over the years for harassing and intimidating journalists, and 2001 proved no different. Yemen Times correspondent Hassan al-Zaidi was detained and questioned three times in seven months over his reporting about the kidnappings of Europeans in Yemen.
In a country where the literacy rate is just over 50 percent, television is more influential than newspapers. The government, however, maintained tight control over the country’s broadcast media, which provided–not surprisingly– one-dimensional, pro-government coverage.
Some foreign journalists who visited the country after the September 11 attacks on the United States encountered restrictions on their ability to travel outside the capital, Sanaa. Some foreign journalists were required to inform security agents of their destinations when leaving their hotels, while agents trailed other correspondents.
Yemeni authorities confiscated the first issue of the new monthly newspaper Human Rights from newsstands.
The Yemeni Information Ministry ordered the confiscation, claiming that the newspaper had violated the press law but providing no further details.
Human Rights was the first Yemeni newspaper to deal specifically with human rights and democracy issues.
Seif al-Hadheri, Al-Shoumou
An appellate court in Sanaa upheld a lower court decision to ban al-Hadheri, editor of the weekly Al-Shoumou, from practicing journalism in Yemen for 10 months. The charges stemmed from allegedly libelous articles, published in Al-Shoumou in 2000, that accused the education minister of financial impropriety.
Al-Hadheri received a suspended six-month prison sentence and was ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals (about US$6,250). Al-Shoumou was ordered closed for one month, effective immediately. CPJ protested the case in a June 26 letter to Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Hassan al-Zaidi, Yemen Times
State security agents arrested al-Zaidi, a reporter for the English-language weekly Yemen Times, at the paper’s offices in Sanaa.
The journalist was apparently detained for interviewing a kidnapped German tourist whom security forces had not been able locate.
The agents told al-Zaidi that there were “supreme orders” for his arrest, according to a source at the newspaper.
Al-Zaidi was released on June 25.
LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED
Yemen’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision to ban the opposition weekly Al-Shoura for six months.
The ban stemmed from a 1997 libel case brought against Al-Shoura and its former editors, the late Abdullah Saad and his brother Abdel Jabber Saad, by Islah Party leader Sheikh Abdel Majid al-Zindani.
The court also upheld Abdel Jabbar’s sentence of 80 lashes and a ban on practicing journalism for one year. Abdel Jabbar was also ordered to pay damages of 100,000 riyals (about US$625) to Sheikh al-Zindani.
Al-Zindani later withdrew his case against the two brothers, according to Al-Shoura. It was unclear what effect this would have on the Supreme Court’s ruling, which had not yet been delivered at press time.
Hassan al-Zaidi, Yemen Times
Yemeni authorities detained al-Zaidi, a veteran reporter for the English-language weekly Yemen Times.
Al-Zaidi was apparently detained on the orders of Marib Province governor Naji Abdullah al-Sufi. The journalist was held incommunicado and his whereabouts were unknown.
Though officials gave no reason for the arrest, it was believed that al-Zaidi was detained in retaliation for his reporting on German diplomat Rainer Burns, who was kidnapped by armed gunmen on July 27 and was still a captive at the time.
According to local sources, al-Zaidi’s articles embarrassed Governor al-Sufi because they contained accurate information on the location of Burns and his captors, suggesting that Yemeni authorities were incompetent.
In a September 21 letter to Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, CPJ protested al-Zaidi’s detention and urged his immediate release. Al-Zaidi was released a few days later.
Feras Farooq al-Yafai, Al Haqiqah
An Aden criminal court found al-Yafai, editor of the weekly Al-Haqiqah, guilty of insulting and humiliating a public official.
Al-Yafai was sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay a 5,000 riyal (US$30) fine.
The sentence came after an article by al-Yafai, published in the August 2 edition of Al-Haqiqah, falsely reported that the governor of Aden, Taha Ghanem, had resigned his post and fled the country. At press time, the case was under appeal.
Hassan al-Zaidi, Yemen Times
Yemeni state security agents detained al-Zaidi, a reporter for the English-language weekly Yemen Times, in the early morning as he was walking home.
Authorities gave no reason for the arrest, but sources at the Yemen Times said it was related to the recent kidnapping of a German businessman by members of al-Zaidi’s tribe.
Al-Zaidi had already been arrested twice in 2001 for his reporting on the kidnappings of foreigners. Al-Zaidi’s work embarrassed local authorities because it showed that he had more information on the prisoners’ whereabouts than the government.
Al-Zaidi was arrested just as an edition of the Yemen Times featuring a story he wrote about the kidnapping was being printed. He was released the following day.