• Government censors newspapers, establishes new press court.
• Two journalists jailed without charge; one missing after being abducted.
8: Newspapers banned for periods beginning in May due to their coverage of unrest in the south.
Continuing a steady years-long decline, Yemen became one of the most repressive countries in the region for the press. Journalists covering clashes in the country’s restive south faced severe restrictions. Government repression reached its peak in May, when at least eight newspapers that had covered violent protests were barred from distribution, several papers faced criminal charges, and one paper came under direct attack from state security agents. Government officials established a special court for perceived news media offenses.
THE PRESS: 2009
• Main Index
MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA
• Regional Analysis:
Human rights coverage spreads despite government pushback
• Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories
• Other developments
The Sana’a-based government sought to tamp down longstanding tensions in the country’s south, where demonstrators protested policies they saw as marginalizing the region’s residents and denying them public services. In late April—around the anniversary of the 1990 unification of north and south—conditions boiled over as government troops clashed with armed protesters. Following its past practice, the government moved aggressively to control the flow of information. An armed group believed to have acted on behalf of authorities burned more than 16,000 copies of the popular daily Al-Ayyam on May 1, Bashraheel Bashraheel, the paper’s general manager, told CPJ. Two days later, military authorities prevented distribution of the paper, he said. By May 4, security forces had surrounded the paper’s production plant and effectively barred it from publishing, Bashraheel said.
The Ministry of
Information expanded its suppression of the news the same day, barring the
sales of Sana’a-based Al-Masdar, Al-Ahali, Al-Diyar,
Al-Mustaqila, Al-Nida, Al-Share, and Aden-based Al-Wattani and
Al-Ayyam, according to press
reports. All had covered unrest in the south in ways that were critical of the
government. Information Minister Hassan Ahmed al-Luzi argued that the papers
had violated the country’s press law by publishing articles that threatened
national unity and “spread hatred and enmity among the united people of
President Ali Abdullah Saleh sent a similar message when he addressed parliament on May 6. “If there is room to talk in the press then you have to publish kindness, love, and brotherhood. If there were mistakes in development or security or the judiciary, criticize those mistakes and there would be no objection, there is room for that. But the unity, freedom, democracy, revolution, the republic, and the constitution are national invariants that cannot be crossed,” he was quoted as saying in the state-run newspaper Al-Thawra.
Al-Ayyam remained shut in late year. The other newspapers resumed publication but faced sporadic censorship and harassment, according to local press reports. Authorities also took court action against several of the same newspapers in May. The Ministry of Information filed criminal complaints against Al-Masdar, Al-Wattani, Al-Diyar, Al-Nida, Al-Share, and Al-Ayyam on charges of inciting hatred and harming the unity and the interests of the country. The cases were pending in late year. Under the press code, editors of the papers could face up to one year imprisonment.
against the press reached its peak on May 13 when security forces carried out
an armed raid on the offices of Al-Ayyam in
Amid protests from
journalists and human rights advocates, the country’s High Judicial Council established
a special court in May to try cases related to media and publishing offenses,
according to local press reports. More than 150 cases, some dating to 2006,
were immediately referred to the Press and
Mawari, who was tried in absentia, told CPJ that he discussed the “devastating impact” of a president who “prefers to see journalists taken to court instead of those involved in corruption.” He called the verdict a “message aimed at terrorizing journalists and preventing them from writing about the president.” Al-Masdar said it would appeal the verdict. Yemeni journalists questioned the legitimacy of the press court, saying the constitution makes no allowance for the creation of exceptional courts. They also said the professional bans handed down by the court were not grounded in Yemeni law.
Two journalists were in
jail when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists on December
1. Security forces detained Fuad Rashid, editor-in-chief of the news Web site Mukalla Press, on May 4 in the southern city of
editor-in-chief of the Gulf Aden news Web site, was seized by security forces
during a raid at his home in Khour Mikasr in
critical of the government disappeared. Muhammad al-Maqaleh, editor of Aleshteraki, a Web site affiliated with the opposition Socialist Party, was
kidnapped by unidentified men on September 18, according to news accounts.
Witnesses quoted in local news reports said that armed, masked men intercepted
al-Maqaleh’s car in Sana’a, dragged him into their vehicle, and sped away. The
week before, al-Maqaleh had posted an article condemning military airstrikes
that killed 87 people and injured more than 100. The victims were internal
refugees, having escaped ongoing fighting in
Facing civil unrest not
only in the south, authorities were acutely sensitive to any coverage they saw
as critical of government actions. In July, the government launched a military
operation against fighters with the Al-Huthi, a Shiite tribal group, in Saada
Al-Jazeera, which devoted
extensive coverage to social unrest, was singled out by government leaders for
criticism. “The Al-Jazeera channel has become a source for criticizing Yemeni
society,” Masaad al-Lahibi, a member of parliament, was quoted in local press
reports as saying in July. “It airs what is being provided to it by forces that
The station reported several cases of
harassment and attacks. On June 22, for example, masked men stoned the
Government repression also
targeted critical news Web sites. The newspapers Al-Masdar, Al-Tagheer, and Al-Share’
said in May that their Web
sites had been briefly blocked domestically. Arafat Mudabish, editor-in-chief
of Al-Tagheer, told CPJ that he believed the site was
targeted because of its coverage of the southern unrest. Mukalla Press, based in the southern
International reporters descended in late year to cover the government’s response to the local branch of Al-Qaeda, which had sponsored a failed Christmas Day attack on a U.S.-bound airliner. Amid the country’s considerable civil unrest, Al-Qaeda’s activities had drawn little domestic coverage during the year.