President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi
Dear President Hadi,
Elected Yemen’s president on 21 February after a year of crisis, you are to be the new guarantor of the Yemeni constitution for the next two years. This includes being the guarantor of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution for all the Yemeni citizens and foreign nationals residing in your country.
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to share with you its concerns about the current state of media freedom in Yemen after 33 years of rule by Ali Abdallah Saleh.
One of our chief concerns is about the existence since May 2009 of a special tribunal for all offences involving the media. Such a court can only have one aim, to gag journalists. Reporters Without Borders calls for its complete abolition so that media offences are no longer handled by a special court.
We also urge you to reexamine the official position on the continuing detention of Abdul Ilah Haydar Shae, a journalist who has been held in Sanaa since 16 August 2010 and was sentenced on 18 January 2011 by the court for terrorist cases to five years in prison and two years of house arrest on a charge of participation in an armed group with links to Al-Qaeda.
Despite the publication of a presidential decree on 1 February 2011 announcing his release, he has been kept in detention as a result of direct pressure from the White House since the day after the decree’s publication, when President Obama expressed his “concern” about Shae’s possible release. His continuing detention violates Yemen’s international obligations.
Many other journalists have been the victim of attacks by the security forces. In the past year, pro-government militias, the notorious baltajiyas, have carried out punitive expeditions aimed at suppressing the popular uprising and preventing the media from covering it. Telephone threats and physical attacks have become commonplace. There have been many arrests and abductions. As the independent and opposition press are widely established, the authorities have seized issues of some of these newspapers and tried to cut distribution networks.
In a recent case, a correspondent for the BBC’s Arabic-language service, Abdullah Ghorab, and Al-Nile TV cameraman Mounir Al-Dali’i were deliberately targeted on 15 February in Sanaa by eight supporters of former President Saleh armed with batons and knives. It was the third attack on Ghorab in less than a year.
Reporters Without Borders urges you to dismantle the baltajiyas and to put an end to the physical attacks and acts of intimidation against journalists. Independent and impartial investigations must be carried out into all the abuses that have taken place, and those responsible must be brought to justice. The free flow of information must also be facilitated by lifting the blockades on certain publications and ending the confiscation of newspapers. Media pluralism is essential.
Reporters Without Borders also reminds you of the importance of issuing visas to foreign journalists who want to visit Yemen.
We are aware of the many issues you have to address in the immediate wake of your election and we thank you in advance for heeding our comments and observations so that freedom of the media and information can become a reality in Yemen and thereby turn the page on the many dark years of repression.
Reporters Without Borders acting secretary-general