Newsletter No 27 25 April 2006
Press Freedom:
Consequences of Suspension: Losing Money and the Brand

Press freedom in Yemen has deteriorated significantly since 2004. Journalists have been the targets of numerous attacks. Cases of independent and opposition journalists arrested, abducted and beaten as well as publications suspended or banned are regularly reported by press freedom organizations.

The cartoon crisis has sparked renewed attacks of the independent press.

APN spoke to Mohammed Al Asadi, Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Observer about the consequences of the suspension of his newspaper on 8 February for referring to the cartoons. He spent twelve days in prison for publishing three fragments of the Danish cartoons in one frame with an huge X over them to avoid offending readers.

“We are losing money and the brand name we have established,” Al Asadi says. “By 3 May, we will be entering the fourth month of suspension. The newspaper has no source of income. The owner of the newspaper is using money from other business into the newspaper.”

The trial against the
Yemen Observer has been postponed until 3 May, a date that ironically marks the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day. Al Asadi is confident his newspaper will be able to resume publishing. “There is no legal ground for the suspension,” he says.

Up until now, the
Yemen Observer has continued to publish on the internet. It is registering a much higher traffic than usual, especially from readers abroad that want to know about the latest developments in the case, Al Asadi says.

But the online newspaper provides no revenue since it has no advertising. The future for the print edition, if it resumes publishing, is not a bright one either.

“I think it will be too hard to win the same confidence of the advertisers in a short time,” Al Asadi says. Not only that, some advertisers are using the current situation as an excuse for not fulfilling already acquired obligations, he says.

If the paper’s license is revoked indefinitely, some of the staff will have to be fired, although others will be placed in some of the group’s other publications.

Al Asadi’s situation is more complicated. He faces a year in prison for blasphemy. The twelve days he spent in jail showed him that he was not alone.

“My imprisonment was a practical test to assess how solidly the staffers and the owner of the newspaper can stand. They showed great solidarity with me. I am still the editor-in-chief of the
Yemen Observer, though we can’t print it. This experience encouraged me to continue my career and fight hard to establish our rights for a free media,” he says.

He intends to mark the World Press Freedom Day launching his personal website “It will be a news and watchdog website. My objective is to participate in developing my society and realizing real freedom of expression.”