The press is 100 percent free, declared Yemeni Information Minister Abdel Rahman al-Akwaa in January. Indeed, Yemenis have enjoyed a notable degree of press freedom since the unification in 1990 of the Yemen Arab Republic (north Yemen) and the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (south Yemen), which ushered in multi-party politics and the creation of liberal press laws designed to protect the press. Nevertheless, few Yemeni journalists would agree that the press functions without restrictions.
Although a number of independent newspapers have started up during the past five years, the state still controls the countrys three dailies, as well as all broadcast media. And while opposition newspapers have a certain amount of freedom to criticize the government, authorities frequently seek to silence outspoken journalists. Police and agents from the Political Security Office continue to employ extra-legal means such as physical attacks and confiscation of newspapers to harass journalists.
The states intolerance for the press was manifest in a July 7 speech by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who cautioned two independent newspapersthe English-language weekly Yemen Times and the Arabic-language biweekly Al-Ayyamto restrain their dubious reporting on the government. I am directing an early warning to them, because I know that the Minister of Information or the Ministry of Information is hesitant to take legal measures against the papers, he said. But I shall take the appropriate measures at the appropriate time.
Such threats, coupled with the restrictive practices of security forces over the past few years, have had a chilling effect on Yemeni journalists, who increasingly practice self-censorship. We still criticize the government, noted the editor in chief of an independent opposition newspaper. But we use restraint and self-censorship on sensitive issues that we feel will backfire.
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