Freedom of press in Yemen

The offices of Al Ayyam, one of the oldest and most popular independent newspapers of Yemen, now banned, are part of a fort in Aden. Official security forces and the guards of Al Ayyam got into an armed fight in this city in May 2009. At the beginning of this year fights occurred again. During these, the chief editor, Hisham Bashraheel, and two of his sons got arrested. The other family members have been under house arrest since.

‘The government forbade our newspaper, because we supposedly sympathize with the secession movement. But it comes down to the fact that there is no such thing as freedom of press in Yemen’, says Basha Bashraheel, co-chief editor. ‘Those who are critical face intimidations, that are increased if you refuse to give in. All information is under complete state control. The government now also discovered the Internet. Websites get banned, Skype is removed.’ Basha does not want to share a lot about the court case, it is too sensitive. In his speech on Unity Day president Saleh promised amnesty for journalists and political prisoners.

In Sana’a, in the Freedom Quarter close to the Parliament, Tawakkol Karman, president of the organization “Female Journalists without Chains”, organizes demonstrations and sit-ins every week, since almost one year now. They demand the abolition of the ban against Al Ayyam, more freedom of press and the release of detained journalists. Saleh did his amnesty-quote more than a week after demonstrators got forcibly dispersed and cameras were confiscated. ‘Normally I’m not very keen to believe Saleh’s promises. But this time he has no other option’, Karman says. ‘It cools down the heated political atmosphere and reduces costs for the state. I do have strong doubts whether a thorough debate on press freedom will follow.’

Karman’s organization recently published the fifth report on freedom of press in Yemen. 2009 is on record a very dark year for the Yemeni journalism. This unchained into new aggressive intimidation methods against journalists and 256 violent acts. ‘The government also installed a special media Court last year, that focuses on the criminalization of journalists. That is illegal and unacceptable, because you stand no chance at that Court. And the internet has become a new market. Anyone who wants to set up a new website, pays 50 000 dollar license rights’.

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