Several journalists returned to the country in 2002 after being in exile since the 1994 civil war. They included, in August, Mohammed Abdul Hadi, former correspondent in Aden for the pan-Arab TV station Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), and Sameer Moqbil, of the newspaper Al-Wahdawi (published in exile in Cairo). A group of formerly exiled journalists, along with the head of the Yemeni journalists’ union, Mahboob Ali, had talks on 2 September with information minister Hussein al-Awadi, who ordered that they be given their jobs back in the state-owned media. He said he appreciated their approach to him and noted that only three journalists - Omar Bawazeer, Ali Gassar and Saeed Ali Noor - were still in exile in Damascus and Cairo.
To mark the 24th anniversary of his coming to power, President Ali Abdallah Saleh ordered the justice minister and the prosecutor-general on 17 July to drop legal action against journalists and stressed his support for "democracy, an inescapable choice," though he warned that journalists must "avoid publishing anything against the law or harming national unity." But legal harassment of journalists continued and several were under the threat of suspended prison sentences, the best way to ensure self-censorship.
Three journalists imprisoned
Abdul Rahim Mohsen, who writes for the daily Al-Thawri, the organ of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party, was kidnapped by armed men in Sanaa on 23 May 2002. He was held in a cave for a month and then interrogated on 28 June at the prison run by the political police about articles he had written criticising government corruption, curbs on civil liberties and a wave of arrests in Yemen after the 11 September attacks in the United States. His interrogators threatened to kill him.
Mohsen, Ibrahim Hussein (who writes for several local publications, including Al-Thawri) and Al-Thawri editor Khaled Salman, were accused by the information ministry of "incitement to religious sedition" and "undermining national harmony" and given five-month suspended prison sentences by a Sanaa court on 4 June. Salman was not arrested but Hussein was picked up in Sanaa by plainclothes police on 21 June. Despite the sentences being suspended, Hussein and Mohsen remained in prison and legal proceedings against them continued.
Dozens of people, including government opponents, journalists and a group of lawyers, demonstrated on 26 June outside the presidential palace in Sanaa calling for the release of the two journalists, who appeared in court on 2 July without their lawyers, who had not been informed. The hearing consisted of reading out charges (of violating article 103 of the press law) to the handcuffed journalists. They risked a year in prison. The hearing was adjourned until 7 July for "further study of the case"
Eight opposition parties, including the Islamist Al-Islah and the Yemeni Socialist Party, denounced their imprisonment which they said was a crackdown. The Sanaa court released them on 9 July, saying their jailing was illegal, but it did not cancel their trial.
Aref Mohsen Al Khewani, a soldier and journalist, was imprisoned without trial in Sanaa central prison from October to December on grounds of supposed "mental illness." He worked on the defence ministry weekly 26 September until he was dismissed in 1999. Pay owed to him was frozen and efforts to mediate by the Yemeni journalists’ union failed. He had then written for several opposition papers. He was freed on 3 December after a campaign by Yemeni and foreign organisations.
Two journalists physically attacked
Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, editor of Al-Umma, was brutally attacked in front of the paper’s offices on 23 August 2002. Armed men in an unmarked vehicle beat him badly and threatened him if he continued writing. The Yemen Times said he had often denounced human rights violations and advocated democracy. He was also a leading member of the Al-Haq political party.
Hasan Said Azaidi, of the Yemen Times, was hit by police who confiscated his camera while he was covering a student strike in Sanaa on 23 October. The paper formally asked the authorities to investigate the incident.
Pressure and obstruction
Information minister Hussein Al-Awadi suspended the weekly Al-Shumu indefinitely on 3 February 2002. No reason was given to editor Saif al-Hadheri, who said it was because of articles criticising the government. The ministry reportedly told the journalists’ union however that suspension was because the paper had not followed proper procedure for getting a licence.
The interior ministry denied on 30 April that an explosion and artillery fire, reported by witnesses, had broken out in a neighbourhood of Sanaa the previous day. It said it was "the only authority that could make statements about the security matters" and threatened to prosecute media that contravened this rule. At the same time, the information ministry summoned all journalists and Arab and other foreign correspondents to warn them against spreading "false news."
Faisal Mukarram, of the Saudi daily Al-Hayat, Ahmed al-Haj, of the Associated Press news agency, and Khaled al-Mahdi, of the German news agency DPA, were questioned by a Sanaa prosecutor’s office dealing with media offences on 9 and 11 July. They were accused of "putting out military information without evidence and without contacting official sources as required by the press law." Mukarram refused to answer the questions of the judge, Fadhl Mubarak al-Salmi in the absence of a lawyer and a senior Yemeni journalist.
The summonses came after the journalists wrote articles about the Yemeni army’s bombing of northern tribal areas on 5 and 6 July after an attempt in the area on 4 July to assassinate the deputy army commander, Ali Mohammed Saleh, who was wounded in shooting.
Six other journalists were called to the information ministry on 7 July. They were Mohammed al-Qadhi of the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, Mohammed al-Ghobari of the UAE daily Al-Bayan, Saeed Thabet of Al-Qods Press, Ibrahim al-Ashmawi of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, Arafat Madabish of Al-Akhbar al-Arab and Ahmed al-Jabali of Al-Ittihad. They were warned that if they wrote any more stories about military matters, their press accreditation would be withdrawn. The six journalists told the Yemen Times newspaper they were concerned by the ministry’s warning, which they said aimed to gag the press and make it very hard to do free and impartial reporting.
The Yemeni journalists’ union condemned a physical attack on Mahboob
Abdulaziz, of the newspaper 14 October, by a security agent in Aden in late July.
The prosecutor in Ibb province issued an arrest warrant on 21 October for Mohammed Sadek al-Odaini, editor of the human rights page in the Socialist Party daily Al-Thawri. It was the fourth legal action since June against the paper. The Yemen Times said the warrant did not say why he should be arrested. Odaini, who went into hiding, is writing a book about human rights violations in Yemen.
He had earlier said he was disappointed by the new pro-government sympathies of the country’s journalists’ union, which he headed until he was removed after taking a strong stand in favour of press freedom. In 1997, he escaped being kidnapped, a common occurrence in Yemen where tribal chiefs and other authorities exert strong pressure on journalists. He was imprisoned without trial from 1997 to 1999 for the alleged murder of a passer-by.
Khaled Salman, editor of the Socialist Party daily Al-Thawri, was given a suspended three-month prison sentence on 3 November after a complaint by air force commander Saleh Al-Ahmar about publication in August of a photo of a pilot killed in an accident.
Four journalists working for the opposition Nasserite Party paper Al-Wehdawi were summoned on 4 November to appear before the press court for writing articles considered harmful to relations between Yemen and neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Abderrakib al-Hadyan, a photographer and correspondent of Al Sahwa, organ of the Al-Islah Islamist movement, was arrested and detained for several hours while covering a demonstration the southern town of Dhaleh on 21 December. His photographic equipment was seized.