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President commits to press freedom, access to information

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

The IFJ Welcomes Commitment of Yemen to Press Freedom, Access to Information and Open Government

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomed today fresh pledges from the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh that press freedom in Yemen will be guaranteed in the draft of the new broadcast law which, when passed, will permit independent broadcast media to be set up. President Saleh also supported the right of journalists to access information and asked the government to move faster in issuing licenses for new and suspended newspapers.

The president was speaking to the Yemeni journalists at the opening of the Fourth Congress of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate in Sana yesterday held under the title "To Defend Journalists' Rights and Press Freedom". In an impressive show of strength and solidarity, more than 1000 participants have gathered in the Expo Center in the Yemeni capital Sana to set their union's agenda for the next four years; they will also elect a new leadership for the YJS. Jim Boumelha, the IFJ president, is also attending the congress in a show of support from the world's journalists' community.

"Press freedom, open government and access to information are vital ingredients for every journalist," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ president. "We welcome the commitment of the president of Yemen to these principles. However, there is still hard work to be done for this to have a positive impact on the work of Yemeni journalists and we'll be supporting our colleagues all the way."

For the last few years, the YJS campaigned against the precarious conditions in which journalists were subjected to politicised criminal charges and censorship from government officials. Despite positive development where civil society organisations have expanded and independent newspapers established, frequent severe actions continue to be taken by the Yemeni authorities against journalists and media in violation of Yemen's international commitments.

In addition to the current restriction on press freedom in Yemen, most journalists work in intolerable conditions, poor health and social benefits and with very little access to professional training. The current congress which will last three days will elect a new leadership with a mandate and the backing to tackle these challenges. Some 99 candidates are standing for election to the board of the syndicate reflecting a new fighting spirit within the union.

Boumelha in his speech urged the president to stand by the YJS in its long campaign to de-criminalise press offences. The union had proposed amendments to the press and publication law intended to guarantee the rights of journalists working in print media. "Mr. President, I urge you to support our colleagues in the YJS and its efforts to amend the media law so there will be no more journalists imprisoned because of their work," he said.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh also responded to the call by Boumelha that the decision taken by the Special Criminal Court on Terrorism to confirm the 6-year jail term against journalist Abdul Karim Al Khaiwani be cancelled. Ali Saleh made a firm promise that he will enforce his pardon forthwith and ensure that the case is closed.

Boumelha told the journalists: "We share your horror and outrage at the way colleagues here in Yemen have been treated - we know about your precarious conditions, the politicised criminal charges and the censorship you face often enough."

In tribute to the commitment of the YJS and its members he added, "I have no doubt that your union has been and will always be at the centre of the fight for social justice and professional rights in journalism. You have shown a fighting trade union spirit which is a real model for our unions in the region."

IFJ represent more than 600,000 journalists in 123 counties around the world.

For further information on Al Khaiwani case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100406

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