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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Yemen

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Yemen, February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566fcc.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in May that he would work to decriminalize press offenses. Yet three months later, a prominent editor who published opinion pieces opposing the president's handling of a bloody armed rebellion was sentenced to a year in prison, and his newspaper was suspended for six months.

Such is the contradictory climate in which Yemeni journalists work. Authorities say they want to promote press freedom, but at the same time they wield a harsh press law as a weapon against journalists who offend them. The 1990 Press Law criminalizes writing anything that can "cause tribal, sectarian, racial, regional, or ancestral discrimination" or "undermine public morals." The press is also barred from reporting "direct or personal criticism of the person of the head of state."

In April, Said Thabet Said of the London-based news agency Al-Quds Press was barred from working in journalism for six months after he was convicted of publishing false information. Said was accused of filing an incorrect report saying that President Saleh's son, who is commander of the country's Republican Guard, had been injured in an assassination attempt.

Many recent Press Law cases have led to suspended prison sentences, or simply to investigations that were left open. For example, journalists Jalal al-Sharabi, Nayef Hassan, and Fouad al-Rabadi were given suspended sentences in May for publishing an article about homosexuality, a taboo topic in Yemen, in the weekly newspaper Al-Ousbou (The Week). Journalists say the practice of opening investigations or giving suspended sentences is designed to intimidate journalists without appearing overly repressive.

In 2004, the prosecution of Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Shoura (The Consultation), sent a chilling message to journalists that critical reporting can have more serious consequences. In September, al-Khaiwani was convicted in a criminal court in Sana'a of incitement, insulting the president, publishing false news, and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination. He was sentenced to a year in prison, and the court suspended Al-Shoura for six months. Local journalists told CPJ that al-Khaiwani was placed in a prison wing housing violent criminals.

The charges against the editor stemmed from nine opinion pieces in the July 7 issue, which was devoted to the Yemeni government's fight against rebel cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Hawthi. Al-Hawthi led an uprising in the northern region of Saada for more than two months until government forces killed him on September 10. Hundreds of people, including rebels, government troops, and civilians, were reportedly killed during the uprising. In staff-written articles, the paper criticized the government's conduct and questioned its motives. One piece claimed that the government was fostering terrorism with its actions, while another alleged that innocent people were being killed in the conflict.

After the al-Khaiwani case, many journalists said they felt compelled to censor their own work. Reporters, already careful not to criticize the president directly, said that stories on tribal tensions also attract unwanted attention from officials. Indirect government pressure – such as security agents calling editors to persuade them not to cover certain issues – adds to the climate of self-censorship.

Nonetheless, Yemen's printed press, composed of independent, opposition, and pro-government dailies and weeklies, is surprisingly diverse and aggressive in its coverage. It is not uncommon for newspapers to take strong editorial positions against government policies. Government corruption and human rights violations are reported, with ministers named and criticized.

With an estimated national literacy rate of 50 percent or less, the government has chosen to keep firm control of television and radio. It has yet to license a private television or radio station, though the law does not specifically exclude private broadcasters. Many Yemenis get their news from state-run radio and TV stations, which dutifully reflect government opinion. But Arabic-language satellite channels, such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, are growing in popularity, particularly in cities, where satellite access is more readily available.


2004 Documented Cases – Yemen

SEPTEMBER 5, 2004
Posted: September 17, 2004

Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, Al-Shoura
IMPRISONED

Al-Khaiwani, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Shoura, began serving a one-year prison sentence on September 5. That day, he was convicted of incitement, insulting the president, publishing false news, and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination. Al-Khaiwani's lawyer, Jamal al-Jaabi, told CPJ that al-Khaiwani was charged under both Yemen's Press Law and Penal Code. The court also suspended Al-Shoura for six months.

Al-Jaabi said the charges against al-Khaiwani stemmed from nine opinion pieces published in the July 7 issue of the weekly, which was dedicated to discussing the Yemeni government's fight against rebel cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Hawthi, who led a three-month uprising against authorities in the northern Yemeni region of Saada. Hundreds were reportedly killed during the uprising, and government forces killed al-Hawthi on September 10.

The articles, which were written by other newspaper staff members, were extremely critical of the government's conduct and questioned its motives in engaging in an armed conflict against al-Hawthi and his supporters. For example, one of the pieces claimed that the government was creating terrorism with their actions, while another claimed that innocent people were being killed in the conflict.

Al-Jaabi said that al-Khaiwani was detained at Al-Shoura's offices late in the evening on September 5, the same day the court convicted him. Al-Jaabi said that the officers who arrested al-Khaiwani were dressed in plainclothes and did not provide a warrant when they came for him. Al-Jaabi told CPJ that he has already filed an appeal.

DECEMBER 26, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Abdel Rahman Abdullah, Al-Tagammu
Nabil Subai, Al-Tagammu
Abdelwahid Hawash, Al-Ihyaa Al-Arabi
Abdel Jabbar Saad, Al-Ihyaa Al-Arabi
Hamid Shahra, Al-Nas
LEGAL ACTION

Yemeni courts handed down suspended prison terms to at least five journalists in cases relating to their published work, according to press reports and local journalists.

Abdel Rahman Abdullah, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Tagammu (The Rally), was given a six-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of publishing false information. The charge was based on an article about an alleged Libyan government plot to kill Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Prince Abdullah Al-Saud. Nabil Subai, a reporter with Al-Tagammu, received a four-month suspended sentence when the same court found him guilty of harming relations with Saudi Arabia in an article in which he criticized the Saudi government's treatment of political dissidents and accused it of not being serious about political reform.

Abdelwahid Hawash and Abdel Jabbar Saad-editor and reporter, respectively, for the small circulation pro-Baathist weekly Al-Ihyaa Al-Arabi (The Arab Revival)-both received six-month suspended prison sentences for allegedly harming relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, according to local journalists. The charge stemmed from articles published last year that, among other things, criticized Saudi Arabia for its position on the U.S.-led war on Iraq, and its crackdown on militant groups operating in the Kingdom.

In a third case, Hamid Shahra, editor of Al-Nas (The People) weekly, was handed a three-month suspended prison sentence for allegedly defaming the minister of local administration after the newspaper published an article that accused the minister of hiring friends to government posts and using his office for financial gain, according to Jamal al-Jaabi, a lawyer for Shahra.

DECEMBER 29, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Abdulkarim Sabra, Al-Hurriya
Abdulqawi al-Qabati, Al-Hurriya
LEGAL ACTION

Sabra, editor of the private weekly Al-Hurriya (The Freedom), and al-Qabati, a reporter with the newspaper, were each sentenced to two years in prison by a criminal court in Sana'a for allegedly "insulting" President Ali Abdullah Saleh in an article published in the newspaper, Sabra's lawyer, Abdelaziz Al-Samawi, told CPJ. The court also banned the newspaper from publishing for a year.

The case against the two men stemmed from al-Qabati's October 13 article that was highly critical of Arab leaders, including Saleh. Sabra and al-Qabati were not immediately jailed, according to local journalists, although their imprisonment was considered possible at any moment.

DECEMBER 29, 2004
Posted: January 18, 2005

Al-Hurriya
CENSORED, LEGAL ACTION

A court in Sana'a banned the private weekly Al-Hurriya (The Freedom) from publishing for a year after it allegedly "insulted" President Ali Abdullah Saleh in an October 13 article. The article was highly critical of Arab leaders, including Saleh. Editor Abdulkarim Sabra and reporter Abdulqawi al-Qabati were each sentenced to two years in prison in the case, although they were not immediately jailed.

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