In a region where oil-rich monarchies abhor dissent, Yemen’s press is relatively open and diverse, with numerous opposition and independent publications and journalists who do not avoid criticizing government officials or policies. However, the Yemeni press still faces criminal prosecutions, newspaper closures, arbitrary detentions, and threats from security forces.
The 1990 Press Law prohibits criticism of the president. Article 103, frequently used
to prosecute journalists, bars the media from publishing material that “prejudices religion,” “jeopardizes the supreme interests of the country,” and may “raise tribal or sectarian divisions.” Penalties include up to a year in prison, a ban on practicing journalism, and publication closure.
In July, state prosecutors summoned three Yemeni journalists working for the foreign press–Faisal Mukarram of the London-based daily Al-Hayat, Ahmed al-Hajj of
The Associated Press, and Khaled al-Mahdi of Deutsche Presse-Agentur–for violating Article 103 of the Press Law after they reported that the deputy army chief of staff was injured when local tribes in the northern al-Jouf region, a hotbed for Islamist militants, fired on his helicopter.
Soon after the prosecutors questioned the men, President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued a decree halting legal proceedings against all journalists in the country. Initially, the move was considered a positive step for press freedom. But to be amnestied, reporters were required to sign a pledge that they would no longer violate the law. Mukarram, al-Hajj, and al-Mahdi refused, saying that to do so was an admission of guilt that would set a dangerous precedent. The cases against the three journalists remained open at year’s end.
In another case, authorities used Article 103 to prosecute two opposition journalists, Abdel Rahim Mohsen and Ibrahim Hussein, who write for the weeklies Al-Osboa
and Al-Thawri, respectively. Mohsen and Hussein were detained separately and held incommunicado until they were both charged on July 2. Although the presidential amnesty applied to them, they also refused to sign the pledge. Their case also remained open at year’s end.
As in previous years, the government closed several publications in 2002. In February, the Information Ministry shuttered the weekly Al-Shumou. The paper’s editor-in-chief
said that the ministry provided no explanation for its action, and that officials have refused to discuss the matter with him. He reasoned that the closure came in response to Al-Shumou‘s various “criticisms of government ministers.” Mahboob Ali, head of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, said that Information Ministry officials informed him that the paper was suspended for failing to comply with licensing procedures. The weekly reopened in the fall, after fulfilling the licensing requirements.
Since September 11, 2001, Yemen has emerged as an important strategic ally to the United States in its “war on terror.” Yemeni journalists disagree on whether their government’s efforts to subdue suspected al-Qaeda militants have had a negative effect on the media. Some said that authorities were too busy battling militants to pay much attention to the press, which was allowed unusual freedom for several months during 2002. Others, however, said that self-censorship has increased, especially on issues such as military operations and the status of government detainees. According to a Yemeni editor, the Information Ministry issued a directive in March instructing his paper not to cover events in Marib, Al-Jouf, and Shabwa provinces, where authorities are fighting anti-government militants allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. Other correspondents reportedly received warnings from officials about their coverage of military matters.
When a French tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen in October, authorities maintained for 10 days that the attack was an accident before admitting that it was an act of terrorism. However, Yemeni journalists said that the government allowed coverage of the incident, including speculation that it was a terrorist attack.
Television is an important source of news in Yemen, where only half the population is literate. Two government-owned television stations broadcast, but many Yemenis, especially those in urban areas, have access to satellite television. Arabic stations such as the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera are increasingly popular.
The daily newspaper Al-Shumou was closed indefinitely by the Ministry of Information. Al-Shumou editor-in-chief Seif al-Hadheri told CPJ that he suspected the closure came in response to Al-Shumou‘s “criticisms of government ministers.” Mahboob Ali, head of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, said that Ministry of Information officials informed him that the paper was suspended for allegedly failing to comply with licensing procedures. Yemeni journalists and government officials have often criticized the paper for being “unprofessional” in its news coverage. The weekly reopened in the fall, after fulfilling the licensing requirements.
Ibrahim Hussein, free-lance
Abdel Rahim Mohsen, free-lance
Hussein, a free-lance journalist who writes for opposition newspapers (including the daily Al-Thawri, an organ of the Yemeni Socialist Party), was arrested at the office of the Yemeni Unionist Party, according to CPJ sources. Mohsen, also a free-lance journalist who writes for opposition publications, had been arrested at his home on May 23. The two men were held incommunicado and were only allowed to meet with their lawyer on Monday, July 1, at the office of a state prosecutor in charge of handling press cases. They were released the next day.
The journalists were detained for several newspaper articles they wrote in the months before their arrests. According to the journalists’ lawyer, Jamal al-Jaabi, at the July 1 meeting, the prosecutor displayed files containing dozens of articles published in the weekly newspapers Al-Osboa and Al-Thawri, including some that criticized alleged government corruption, human rights abuses, and restrictions on civil liberties.
Al-Jaabi said that the two were charged on July 2 in a court in the capital, Sana’a, with “harming national unity” and “inciting racial, sectarian, or tribal discrimination.” But al-Jaabi told CPJ that he was not able to attend the hearing because he was never notified of the proceedings. If convicted, the journalists each face up to one year in prison. The case was adjourned until July 7 but remained pending at year’s end.
Faisal Mukarram, Al-Hayat
Ahmed al-Hajj, The Associated Press
Khaled al-Mahdi, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Mukarram, a reporter for the London-based daily Al-Hayat; al-Hajj, a reporter with The Associated Press; and al-Mahdi, a correspondent for Deutsche Presse-Agentur, were summoned by a state prosecutor and charged with violating Article 103 of the Press Law, which bans journalists from publishing “any secret document or information that might jeopardize the supreme interests of the country or expose any of its security or defense secrets.”
The charge stemmed from articles that the three wrote about a July 4 incident in which Deputy Army Chief of Staff Ali Salah was injured when local tribes in the al-Jouf region, in northern Yemen, fired on his helicopter. According to the journalists’ lawyer, Khalid al-Ansi, the prosecutor alleged that the published articles “revealed military and security secrets.” Although the story was covered in several Yemeni newspapers, only Mukarram, al-Hajj, and al-Mahdi were charged. If convicted, they each faceœup to a year in prison. Authorities have not actively pursued the charges against the writers, but the cases against them have not been officially dropped.