Summia  Algawas, YJY representative and coordinator of the event
Summia  Algawas, YJY representative and coordinator of the debate

Yemen: silence the guns, not the journalists

Journalists working in Yemen face constant harassment and attacks. The forces of law and order view them with suspicion. How to bridge the gap? RNW co-organised an unprecedented debate in Sana’a.
Beaten, abducted, robbed, tortured. All journalists working in Yemen are at risk. Their attackers are either rebels, al-Qaeda supporters or law enforcement officers. The situation is alarming, say international media groups. Time for the Yemeni government and journalists to get together and discuss workable solutions.

He seldom comes alone. His bodyguards, usually half a dozen, will be either in uniform or plainclothes. All carry pistols or AK-47s. After all, he’s the Chief Editor of Al-Thawra, a leading newspaper in the Republic of Yemen and one of the three organisers of an unusual debate, scheduled for World Press Freedom Day.

The other two partners: the Yemen Journalists’ Union and RNW’s Arabic-language Huna Sotak project. Their objective: meaningful discussions between Yemeni media and law enforcement officials.

Disturbingly surreal, the Chief Editor’s entourage points up the urgency of the discussions. These were remarkably frank and open – one of the key aims of all RNW projects.

"We want to help and facilitate journalists and offer them protection"

Words backed up by action
Among the 100 or so present, there were many police, security officers and judicial officials. They listened to journalists stressing the need for urgent action.

Deputy Interior Minister Mohammed Alghodra expressed understanding, but hit the ball neatly back into the media court:

“We want to help and facilitate journalists and offer them protection but the media should also take into consideration the exceptional security situation and the crisis the country is going through”.

Police lieutenant Mohammed Alhashidi won praise for his pragmatic approach.

Concrete steps
To the surprise of many, a  police officer called for concrete amendments to the country’s restrictive media laws. These, he said, must be amended to include the following articles:

"Journalists should not be arrested without a prior order from the prosecutor general"

  • Journalists should not be arrested for any offence committed by newspapers or other media organisations without a prior order from the prosecutor general’s office;
  • Only the prosecutor general’s office staff should be allowed to interrogate a journalist or search his workplace for the same reason;
  • The prosecutor general should inform the Journalists’ Union at least 72 hours before taking such a step. A journalists’ union representative should attend the interrogation.  

The police lieutenant, Mohammed Alhashidi, won praise for his pragmatic approach. It may not end the violence, but it served to narrow the divide between the media and the security sector.  

RNW is pleased to have been able to contribute to greater mutual understanding between the two sides. Both are keen to continue the discussion.

Related items

Relevant links