Saturday, May 30, 2009

Government Backfire on Reporting in Yemen

It is a well known fact that reporting from the front lines is a dangerous job, but in some countries, journalists put themselves in the line of fire just by going into the office. Earlier this month in Yemen, police opened fire on the offices of independent newspaper Al Ayyam for remaining active amidst government pressure to cease publication, and in an attempt to arrest the paper’s editor in chief. Amnesty International reports that two men were killed in the attack and one was injured. The daily paper has been reporting on the clashes in the south between the government and opposition groups.

In the past month, authorities have banned the printing of seven additional papers in an apparent attempt to stifle positive media coverage of the call for independence in the south. Al Ayyam reports that before the attack, its distribution trucks were repeatedly detained by authorities and its papers burned. Al-Ayyam editor Hisham Bashraheel told Reporters Without Borders that the seizures were “worthy of a totalitarian regime.”

Yesterday, Reporters Without Borders appealed once again to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his information minister, Hassan Ahmed Al-Lawzi to condemn this comprehensive gagging of the press. But according to Yemen Times, an English-language publication, Al-Lawzi has denied any censorship of the press, saying that they went willingly, some because of printer problems.

The editors in chief of three of the other publications were arrested under suspicion of "undermining national unity" and later released. But what worries many is the special court recently set up to try press offenses. The government attests that the court is not politically motivated, just a solution for emergency press situations and to get all media related cases under one roof, but the timing and the lack of details about the new court have many worried it will be used to intimidate journalists.

Yemen was ranked 155th out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. For more information visit http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31456.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Censorship in Cuba: Leaps but not Bounds

By Katie Lee Hull

While restrictions on travel to and from Cuba are slowly being lifted, strict regulations on media and information remain for Cuban citizens. Since taking over for his brother in February of 2008, Raul Castro has lifted bans that used to make it near impossible for Cubans to access information on the internet. Hotels are one of the few places on the island with access to internet, and up until recently, Cubans were banned from tourist hotels. But even now that the ban has been lifted, the government still manages to keep the internet out of reach by charging exorbitant prices that keep both personal computers and internet connection out of the price range of most Cubans.  
 
But even with restrictions, many still manage get their voices heard. Yoani Sanchez is one such blogger whose site, Generation Y, is censored in Cuba. Named as one of Time magazines 100 most influential people, her blog makes its way around the island nation on everything from computer memory sticks to lose leaf paper.

Just being censored by her government no doubt helped catapult her to fame both in and out of her country, and at the same time, her international reputation is probably the one thing keeping her out of jail. Currently, 21 bloggers are in jail in Cuba, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

She hasn't been allowed to leave Cuba to accept Spain’s prestigious Ortega and Gasset prize for digital journalism, which she won last year, or to attend the publication party held in Italy to honor her new book, Cuba Libre, which is comprised of a collection of her blogs. Sanchez writes on her blog that “If the situation continues, I will have to start telling my life in the improbable tense: ‘I could have been there except,’ ‘I would have presented the book if not for…’ or ‘I would manage to travel if I shut up.’ Today I’ve been to the launch of Cuba Libre, in the virtual way that only a blogger can.  I spoke by phone with those present, answered some questions, and the connection failed before I could say ‘Goodbye.’” 

Read more about Internet restrictions in Cuba here.