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Yemen February 15, 2006
H.E. Ali Abdallah Salih
Office of the President
Republic of Yemen
The members of the Overseas Press Club of America, who have defended the rights of journalists for more than 65 years, continue to be appalled by the worsening working conditions for our colleagues in your country.
As concerned as we are by certain legislative limits to freedom of the press in Yemen, we are shocked by the recent campaign of judicial harassment against opposition and independent newspapers and journalists by Yemeni authorities. In addition, several Yemeni journalists have been assaulted in recent months by security forces and suspected government agents.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which held a press conference on the deterioration of press freedom on January 26 in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, “witnesses and evidence point to involvement by government officials and suspected state agents in a number of brutal assaults. Journalists who covered protests, reported on official corruption, criticized the president or government policies, or discussed the possibility of President Saleh’s son succeeding him as president, have been targeted.”
Among the many cases of attacks against a free press we cite just four:
• At 1 a.m. on December 5, 2005, five soldiers circled the headquarters of independent daily, Al-Ayyam, several times before asking to meet with the paper’s editor-in-chief, Hisham Bashraheel. Told that Bashraheel was unavailable, they left but then returned at 7 a.m. the next day, parked next to the office and stayed there for two hours. In recent weeks, Al-Ayyam has covered the political opposition to Your Excellency, the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and Yemen ‘s strained relations with the United States over rights abuses.
• On November 26, the opposition weekly, Al-Tajammu, was closed for six months while its editor-in chief, Abdulrahman Abdullah Ibrahim, and journalist, Adulraman Saeed, were barred from practicing journalism for one year and fined 50,000 Yemeni riyals ($275) each. The charges proceeded from an article written by Saeed in 2004 about political violence in 1968, which the court held had incited ethnic conflict and threatened national security.
• While covering a strike by employees of a textile factory on November 4, Mujeeb Suwailih, a cameraman for the pan-Arab news channel, Al-Arabiya, and Najib al-Sharabi, a correspondent for the Saudi Arabia-based satellite channel, Al-Ekhbariya, were attacked by Yemeni security officers. Suwailih suffered three broken ribs, other internal damage and severe bruising on his legs during the beating that followed his refusal to turn over his camera.
• Mohammad Sadiq al-Odaini, head of the Center for Training and Protecting Journalist Freedom, an independent Yemeni press freedom group, was threatened at gun point on December 5 by a well-known security officer after the group published its annual report which accused authorities of failing to investigate attacks on the press. Three days later, the same man with two others dragged al-Odaini from his house and beat him.
Your Excellency, only two years ago, on January 11, 2004, you said, “ Democracy is the choice of the modern age for all peoples of the world and the rescue ship for political regimes particularly in our third world. It is the way to achieve security, stability, development and a better future for our countries. Human rights are tightly connected to democracy and the state of law and order. Therefore, we should remove anything that contradict them and stand against all forms of discrimination, oppression and exploitation for the human being and his rights.”
We applaud those words and remind you that a free and independent press is a cornerstone of any democracy. When journalists are beaten and threatened for reporting the news, democracy is imperiled. When journalists are silenced and newspapers shut down, democracy is suspended.
Your Excellency, we urge you to restore democracy in Yemen by taking every step possible to end this campaign of harassment against free press in your country.
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
Abdal al-Qadir Ba Jamal
Office of the Prime Minister
Republic of Yemen
Abd al-Wahhab Abdallah al-Hajri
Ambassador of Yemen to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen
2600 Virginia Avenue, NW (Suite 705)
Washington, DC 20037
Fax: (202) 337-2017
Ambassador Abdallah al-Saidi
Permanent Mission of Yemen to the United Nations
413 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022
Fax: (212) 750-9613
Thomas C. Krajeski
U.S. Ambassador to Yemen
Embassy of the United States of America
Fax: (011.967.1) 30-31-82