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.

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