Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
While the rights to freedom of expression and a free press are guaranteed under Article 41 of the constitution, the government continues to use the restrictive 1990 Press and Publications Law to prosecute journalists and violate the rights of the media. Steps initiated in 2004 to enact a revised Press and Publications Law have yet to bear fruit. Article 103 of the 1990 law prohibits journalists from criticizing the head of state or publishing material that undermines public morality, prejudices the dignity of individuals by smears and defamation, or distorts the image of the Yemeni, Arab, or Islamic heritage. Penalties for such press violations can range from fines to prison sentences of up to one year. Journalists can also be prosecuted under the penal code for such crimes as apostasy, which may carry the death penalty. The Press and Publications Prosecution Office normally handles cases involving press violations. However, three journalists were referred to the prosecutor’s office specializing in terrorism and national security cases in July 2007 after the Ministry of Defense filed a complaint against their newspaper, the independent Al-Shara’a, for a series of articles on the conflict in the northern province of Sa’ada. Armed confrontations between the government and followers of the assassinated Zaidi cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi have persisted there for three years. The charges against the journalists included harming national security and stability, undermining the morale of the army, and publishing military secrets. If convicted, the defendants could face the death penalty. On July 30, the offices of Al-Shara’a were attacked by armed men who threatened to kill the owners and editors, Nabil Subaie and Nayef Hassan.
Terrorism charges were also brought against Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, editor of the opposition news website Al-Shoura, after his home was raided on June 20. Al-Khaiwani was accused of conspiring with antigovernment rebels and belonging to a terrorist cell, based on material confiscated from his home that included photographs of the conflict area in Sa’ada. A media blackout was imposed in Sa’ada in January, and journalists were forbidden from entering the area. After being released on bail in July, al-Khaiwani was abducted and physically assaulted on August 27 by a group of men who threatened to break or sever his hand to keep him from continuing to criticize the president. At year’s end, al-Khaiwani was still awaiting trial on terrorism charges.
Local press freedom group Women Journalists Without Chains reported 113 violations against the press in 2007, close to double the number recorded for 2006. Throughout the year, journalists were fined, arrested, imprisoned, abducted, threatened, subjected to home and office raids, and prevented from reporting on a spectrum of issues and events. A number of journalists were physically assaulted by security forces while covering the weekly peaceful sit-ins organized by the Civil Society Coalition in the capital’s Freedom Square. These demonstrations, which started in June, protested press freedom violations such as the blocking of numerous websites, the banning of mobile telephone news services, and the lack of the right to operate private media. Foreign correspondents for satellite television stations such as the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya also faced harassment and were detained by government officials while trying to cover local demonstrations. The government seems to support an environment of complete impunity for crimes against the press, failing to conduct serious investigations or even denounce attacks. There were no further developments in the investigation of the 2006 murder of Al-Nahar journalist Abed al-Osaily, who had criticized the government’s handling of a local water project.
Fear and intimidation served to perpetuate the widespread practice of self-censorship among journalists and media owners. Investigative journalism is hampered by potential penalties under the Press and Publications Law and the obstacles posed by media outlets’ low budgets, small staffs, and poor institutional infrastructure. Nevertheless, Yemen’s print media continued to offer relatively diverse coverage of local and international news in 2007. In the last few years, criticism of the government and reporting on issues that were previously considered taboo have increased. However, the government has responded with a media crackdown. Newspapers may be confiscated and withheld from distribution owing to content considered potentially damaging to national security or in violation of the press laws, though articles are not reviewed by a state censorship board prior to publication. Supporting institutions for journalists’ rights include the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate and a number of nongovernmental organizations whose mandates focus specifically on freedom of the press.
Three official newspapers and two independent papers circulate daily, in addition to an estimated 50 independent and 30 party-affiliated papers that are published less frequently. While a number of licenses for new print media were issued during the year, over 60 requests have been denied since 2006. Newspaper licenses must be renewed every year and may be revoked at any time. Media revenue based on sales or subscriptions is minimal given the country’s economic situation; almost half of Yemenis live beneath the poverty line, and about two-thirds live in rural or remote areas. Low salaries leave many journalists susceptible to bribes. The government maintained its complete monopoly on broadcast media in 2007, with two television channels and two national and four regional radio channels. With a national illiteracy rate of roughly 50 percent, many Yemenis relied on state-run television and radio programs for news. For those who can afford it, satellite television provides access to international news and entertainment programs. While only 1.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2007 given economic obstacles, the number of users grew by some 1,700 percent between 2000 and 2007. The Ministry of Telecommunications filters internet content and censors websites, particularly during political events such as the 2006 elections. The state owns the country’s two internet service providers, TeleYemen and YemenNet. Prohibitions on what can be published online include material deemed obscene or subversive on either political or religious grounds. Although a number of opposition political websites and independent news sites were blocked during the year, the censoring of web content was not as widespread as in some neighboring Arab countries.