Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
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Freedom of the press deteriorated in Yemen in 2004, with the government closing several newspapers and jailing a prominent journalist. Some official actions to limit press freedom were related to a crackdown following a bloody rebellion in the northern region of Saada. Yemen's constitution provides for freedom of the press, but the overall legal framework regulating the press is weak. Article 103 of the Press and Publications Law outlaws direct personal criticism of the head of state, and the penal code provides for fines and imprisonment for publishing "false information" that "threatens public order or the public interest." The weakness of Yemen's judiciary and the lack of clarity about who has the power to interpret the meaning of vague articles in laws affecting the press create an environment in which journalists do not feel secure in their freedom to criticize the government and freely debate issues, resulting in self-censorship.
Despite a call by President Ali Abdullah Saleh in June to put an end to imprisonment penalties for press offenses, government authorities used the Press and Publications Law numerous times in 2004 to close several newspapers and sentence journalists to prison. In March, journalist Saeed Thabit Saeed was arrested for writing a report about an alleged assassination attempt on the president's son and was later convicted, fined, and banned from working as a journalist for six months. In September, Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, a prominent editor of the opposition weekly Al-Shoura, was sentenced to jail for one year for publishing articles critical of the president's handling of the Saada rebellion; Al-Shoura was later suspended for six months. While in prison, al-Khaiwani was attacked and severely beaten by another inmate in early November. The Ministry of Information closed a new weekly, Al-Neda, for violating Article 37 of the Press and Publications Law, which requires a new newspaper or magazine to publish within six months of registration; Al-Neda had missed this deadline by two days. The government also suspended the license of the newspaper Al-Hurriya on the grounds that it had changed its logo without permission.
Journalists face threats of violence and death, as well as arbitrary arrest by police and security forces. Unknown gunmen entered the house of Sadeq Nasher, editor of the newspaper Al-Khaleej, and issued a death threat for Nasher's investigations into the December 2002 assassination of political opposition leader Jarallah Omar. In April, Ahmed Al-Hubaishy, editor of the weekly May 22 (a newspaper that has been critical of Islamic militants), was beaten by unknown assailants. Nevertheless, Yemen's independent print media continue to provide varied and robust coverage of official policies and sensitive topics.
The Ministry of Information controls most of the printing presses in the country and provides subsidies to many newspapers. The state enjoys a monopoly on domestic broadcast media, which has a wider impact than the print media because of the high rates of illiteracy in Yemen, and generally prevents reporting critical of the government. Satellite television, with access to regional satellite channels that face far fewer restrictions, is becoming increasingly accessible to the population. Access to the Internet is not widespread, and the government reportedly blocks Web sites it deems offensive.