Who dares to speak in Yemen?
The Yemeni journalist and blogger Afrah Nasser is today one of the Middle East's important voices. She has been named as one of the 10 most important bloggers in the Middle East by CNN. Ever since the demonstrations in Yemen started in January, she has criticized the regime on her blog. Because of threats and reprisals in Yemen she now lives in Sweden, where there´s no certainty that she can stay. However, this hasn’t stopped her struggle against the regime. Rather the reverse; she´s more active than ever.
“My name is Afrah Nasser, I’m a journalist and blogger from Yemen, and I love my country,” that’s how lately I have been introducing myself to strangers. For almost 10 years, I have been writing. I remember when I was 15 years old, I was writing in my diaries hugely all the time. Writing was my gateway for a world where everything was perfect and wonderful. I knew that I was compelled to write all the time, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a journalist. However, life did its thing (meaning, destiny) and I was attracted to journalism. Being a journalist gives me a huge pride, especially that it helped me to convey stories about my beloved country, Yemen.
During my teenage years, I had great interest about human rights issues and freedom of express/press in general. I somehow knew about how tough it was for journalists in Yemen to practice this career. In normal circumstances, it was a tough job for journalists because of many reasons but the key ones were that they were poorly paid for their salaries and they had little rights and appreciation. In exceptional circumstances, when they were anti-regime, it was tough for them because of the oppression and aggression they could face. Regardless, I was so passionate about journalism and I didn’t care about all those obstacles. Today, maybe, I think I should rethink about those obstacles.
According to World Press Freedom Index report (2010), Press in Yemen is in a difficult situation and journalists face serious situation. Another report in 2010 for Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Boarders shows that Yemen was ranked at the 170 level out of the total 178 countries. “Rwanda, Yemen and Syria have joined Burma and North Korea in the group of the world’s most repressive countries towards journalists. This does not bode well for 2011. Unfortunately, the trend in the most authoritarian countries is not one of improvement,” said Reporters without Borders.
Generally, Yemeni journalists had that on their mind all the time. Even though the statistics can’t tell exactly about the magnitude of the hardship journalists and newspapers face in the country, it was good to highlight the situation in Yemen. There are many cases where journalists were forcefully silenced and faced serious risks.
When Yemen’s Uprising took place back on January, female journalist Samia al-Aghbari was attacked by guards. On 13th of February, she joined a demonstration at the change square and she was attacked by guards who threw her to the ground. Her head hit the pavement and she lost consciousness. One security officer loaded his rifle to intimidate men trying to protect her and the other female protesters.
Before that incident and till today, there are hundreds of cases of journalists being target of attacks in Yemen. One article can’t be enough for me to recall all the injustice treatments journalists faced and still face. However, I have to mention Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani who’s a well-established Yemeni journalist, activist and writer. He was sentenced to be in jail for 6 years but he was released on September 2008 after he spent only around 6 months. He was jailed for his alleged involvement with a Shiite rebel group and his writings, and he was released because of interference from president Saleh himself.
I believe that responsible and independent media perform an essential function in a democratic society. Freedom of the press is the primary instrument for the public to hold its government accountable and to make its own views known. Yemeni government must demonstrate its respect for the role of independent media as set by Yemen's constitution and laws by taking immediate, concrete steps to ensure that the media can operate in Yemen freely, securely, and without government interference.
A hard battle is fought between President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces and tribal federation Hashid in Yemen's capital, Saana. In early June, armed security forces scattered demonstrators in the city of Taiz. They required that the president, who´s been in power for 33 years, to relinquish. In the same time the death rates steadily rises and according to Afrah Nasser, more than 200 people have been killed so far.