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Freedom of Press in Yemen: Obstacles and Hopes (abstract)

p. 123-125

Entrées d’index

Keywords : press (freedom), press (history)

Texte intégral

1Between 1938 and 1941 the first Yemeni magazine appeared. It was called al‑Hikma (wisdom) and although it was considered a pioneer in the cultural domain, it was forbidden by the Iman Yahyā. During the First World War and the 1940’s political and trade union activities flourished in the southern part of the country as well as in the domain of freedom of the press. Political parties were founded; numerous newspapers and magazines as well as the radio station The Voice of Yemen (Sawt al‑Yemen) appeared and enriched the media landscape.

2After the unification several other political parties and newspapers appeared, some of them financed by the dominant parties, the CPG and the Socialist Party. Unfortunately, this pluralism did not last very long. The Socialist Party brought in a bill on publications and press (n 25, 1990) that contributed to limit the freedom of the press. This law found support even amongst the newly created parties such as the Nasserist Party and the Islāh.

3After the civil war in 1994, the situation worsened further. The amendments made to the 1990 constitution also called “Constitution of the Unified State” (analyzed by the jurists Muhammad al‑Mikhlāfī and Muhammad ‛Alī al‑Saqqāf) all contributed to restrict the freedom of the press. The only positive point in the constitution of 1990 was to allow the creation of political parties, unions and newspapers by the means of a simple declaration, without the necessity of official authorization. For this reason the ruling party has constantly tried to change the press law. Until now the government has proposed five bills all of which have been refused by the journalists. At present a new bill is being discussed in the Advisory Council.

4According to the lawyer Ahmad al‑Wādi‘ī, the Yemeni Constitution, contrary to the Declaration of Human Rights figuring the “freedom of opinion” (including the right to change one’s opinion) only mentions the “freedom of expression”; latter being only the consequence of the former. The lack of legal right of “freedom of opinion” is exacerbated by the fact that even the “freedom of expression” is subject to Yemeni legislation that further limits its extent.

5In contrast, most democratic countries do not dispose of a special legislation concerning the press, as the Americans Madeleine Shakter and David Macro tell us: journalists enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations as other citizens. Even if the existence of a press law seems legitimate, the risk that authoritarian regimes abuse this kind of law to silence critical voices is high. Even though it is true that some journalists do not respect the deontology of their profession, it shows that journalistic errors end up being revealed with the time and that society generally supports serious newspapers and distinguishes between them and biased newspapers.

6In spite of the vivid contestation of the journalistic community, the government continues trying to promulgate this law which is doomed to restrict the principles of freedom of expression.

7At present it is necessary to obtain an official authorization of the Ministry of Information in order to publish a newspaper. This regulation which does not exist in any democratic country is in itself a denial of the freedom of expression. Actually, several demands for the opening of newspapers are being denied by the Ministry every year.

8Amongst the subjects which journalists must not attack figure: the religion and its principles, the other monotheist religions, the Yemenite, Arabic and Muslim civilization, the heritage, the republican regime, national unity, provocation leading to tribal, racial or religious hatred, customs and traditions of Yemeni society… As we can see the list is extensive. Furthermore, the future law is supposed to introduce the death penalty for “propagation of untrue news”. Numerous other laws, in particular the law about “Documents and Information”, figure different punishments for offenses of the kind.

9Moreover, newspapers and journalists are exposed to extra-judiciary and perfectly illegal repressive measures. The head offices of several newspapers have been closed down (a measure mentioned nowhere by the law) because they did not share the regime’s opinion (al‑Tajammo‘, al‑Usbū‘, al‑Rāsid). Al‑Thawrī (the newspaper of the socialist party), al‑Shūrā and al‑Wahdawī are regularly suspended by the government. After the civil war in 1994, numerous journalists have been submitted to intimidations and physical aggressions. For example, at the occasion of a conference organized by the Yemen Times, the following journalists have been imprisoned and beaten: Abū Bakr al‑Saqqāf, Zayn al‑Saqqāf, Muhammad Sāleh al‑Hādirī. Numerous other journalists have been detained secretly by the security forces without being judged: ‛Abd al‑Rahīm Muhsin, Ibrāhīm Husayn, Sa‘īd Thābet and many others. In addition robberies have occurred in the locations of newspapers organized by certain organs of the security force.

10All of these violations of the freedom of the press have been denounced by Muhammad al‑Mikhlāfī in his book The question of the rule of law in the Yemini crisis. He draws the conclusion that these violations are the only possibility of self-defense of a regime that does not succeed to win the acceptance of the population by means of persuasion.

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