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)
- The rights to freedom of expression and a free press are guaranteed under Article 41 of the constitution, but only “within the limits of the law.” These rights are not respected in practice. Article 103 of the 1990 Press and Publications Law prohibits journalists from criticizing the head of state—with a possible exception for “constructive criticism”—or publishing a variety of other harmful material, including that which undermines public morality, prejudices the dignity of individuals through smears and defamation, or distorts the image of Yemeni, Arab, or Islamic heritage.
- The government tightly controls licensing for newspapers and magazines. The outlets must apply annually for license renewal, which requires proof of 700,000 riyals (US$3,400) in operating capital. Preferential treatment is given to progovernment publications, with opposition-oriented media facing undue bureaucratic obstacles in their licensing efforts.
- According to the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights, the government closed or pressured at least 20 newspapers in 2009, including both progovernment and opposition-aligned publications. In April, the Ministry of Information (MOI) banned the independent weekly Al-Dayari for having published an “offensive” cartoon. In May, the government suspended the production of six independent weeklies—Al-Nida, Al-Shari’, Al-Masdar, Al-Watani, Al-Diyar, and Al-Mustaqilla—on the grounds that the newspapers “were using the rhetoric of secessionism and targeting national unity.”
- Despite the government’s denials, official censorship does occur. The government exerts editorial influence over broadcast media by selecting items that are to be covered during newscasts. Moreover, intimidation serves to perpetuate the widespread practice of self-censorship among journalists and media owners.
- 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. Arrests were often premised on government attempts to combat terrorism or sedition. The pattern of impunity for crimes against journalists continued, as there was no progress in several high-profile cases from previous years.
- Journalists who reported on a regional protest movement in the south or an ongoing civil conflict in the northern Saada area were especially vulnerable to harassment. The government made significant attempts to curtail reporting on such issues, including restrictions on freedom of movement, mobile-telephone service disruptions, direct warnings to journalists, and arrests. Khaled al-Jahafi, a reporter for the website Al-Sahwa Net, was arrested in late December while photographing clashes between security forces and separatists in southern Yemen. Al-Jahafi was reportedly beaten in police custody.
- In 2009, officials targeted the independent daily newspaper Al-Ayyam, one of Yemen’s oldest publications, with routine harassment of its editors, reporters, and owners. Al-Ayyam ceased publication in May and had not resumed by the end of the year following the authorities’ seizure of multiple distribution trucks and the destruction of tens of thousands of copies, as well as a forced printing stoppage. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the military shot into the paper’s headquarters in Aden on May 13, killing one employee and wounding three others. One Al-Ayyam journalist, Anis Ahmed Mansur Hamida, was sentenced to 14 months in prison in July for “attacking national unity” and “separatism.” In another case in December, journalists Fouad Rashid, Salah al-Saqldy, and Ahmed Rabizi went on trial for alleged offenses including “threatening national security.”
- According to Women Journalists Without Chains, an independent organization that monitors violations of press freedom in Yemen, the government controls 30 newspapers, 162 are independent, 59 are linked to political parties, and 50 are associated with civil society organizations. The government also controls 22 magazines, while only 6 are independent, 4 are affiliated with political parties, and 33 are run by civil society organizations. The government maintained its complete monopoly over terrestrial broadcast media, with two television channels and two national and four regional radio channels. In July, authorities threatened to close the Yemeni branch of the Qatar-based satellite television station Al-Jazeera, alleging that its broadcasts were “hostile to the unity and security of Yemen.” Critical reporting on the government is uncommon, as most news content is determined by the state. However, despite attacks and intimidation tactics, opposition and independent outlets have pursued more politically sensitive stories in recent years, including corruption allegations.
- The MOI exerts influence over the print media in part by controlling nearly all printing presses and manipulating advertising subsidies. In December, Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujur issued a ban on publishing state advertisements in independent media outlets.
- Approximately 1.8 percent of the population regularly accessed the internet during 2009. Significantly fewer women than men used the medium, as it is primarily available in internet cafes, which cultural conventions generally prevent women from visiting. The government carries out extensive blocking and filtering of the internet within the country. Websites with religious, “immoral,” or opposition political content are blocked most frequently.
- The database for Al-Baidhapress, a website that provided critical coverage of politics, was destroyed by hackers in February. Newomma.net, the website of the political party Al-Haq, was hacked and had its content manipulated in May. The country’s two internet-service providers are government controlled and use commercially available filtering technology.