Al-Khaiwani given Human Rights Media Award [Archives:2008/1165/Local News]

June 19 2008

By: Yemen Times Staff
SANA'A, June 18 ) Amnesty International granted its human rights media award to leading Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani just days after his imprisonment by Yemeni authorities.

The award – Amnesty's Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat presented by BBC journalist Alan Johnston at an emotional awards ceremony in London Tuesday night – was given to the 42-year-old former editor of Al-Shoura weekly newspaper.

Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists, accepted the award. In an acceptance statement read at the awards ceremony on the imprisoned journalist's behalf, Al-Khaiwani extended his “thanks and gratitude to Amnesty International, as well as to all of those attending this event,” adding that while he is suffering a prolonged “ordeal,” he has “never been alone, thanks to the solidarity of my colleagues and support from the fledgling Yemeni human rights movement.”

On June 9, Al-Khaiwani was jailed for six years, a move criticized by Amnesty, which says he should “never have been on trial in the first place” and that “his imprisonment looks like a clear case of the authorities putting an independent-minded journalist behind bars for his criticism of government policies.”

Speaking shortly before he was imprisoned, Al-Khaiwani said, “The authorities in Yemen are trying to silence me and they even appear to be prepared to lock me up to keep me quiet. I definitely don't want to go to prison again just for doing my job as a journalist, but at the same time I'm not prepared to censor myself for an easy life.”

Public support

Dozens of journalists, members of Parliament, human rights activists and civil society organizations in Yemen staged a sit-in Sunday in front of the public prosecutor, demanding the immediate release of Al-Khaiwani, who was transferred from the state criminal court's facilities to the Sana'a Central Prison on June 9 following his sentencing of six years' imprisonment there.

According to Yemen's penal code, while no judgment made by the criminal court may be appealed, first verdicts in any court case can be appealed; thus, because this is only Al-Khaiwani's first verdict, he still may appeal his sentence.

Yemeni Journalists Syndicate Secretary-General Amin Dammaj noted that the syndicate has sent an official letter demanding Al-Khaiwani's release to the public prosecutor, who already has promised to release him, since his sentence won't be implemented immediately.

Human rights activist and Member of Parliament Ahmed Saif Hashed believes Al-Khaiwani's trial was a breach of justice used to avenge a political vendetta, commenting, “It's amazing that some influential people in justice use their power against journalists and journalism.”

He added, “What happened today was power versus justice and the assassination of the law, so I call on all civil society organizations to protest for the sake of revealing these illegal violations. “Together with the general public, human rights organizations and donor nations, we all must stand together against such illegal violations to preserve the law and ensure the objectivity of justice,” Dammaj concluded.

Families of USS Cole bombing victims call for Al-Khaiwani's release

The American Islamic Congress announced Tuesday that it is joining with the families of sailors killed in the USS Cole bombing to demand Yemen take responsible action against terrorists and protect the basic freedoms of journalists.

“We are a coalition of civil rights activists, the families of USS Cole sailors murdered in the Al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole and Americans of conscience. We are concerned that the Yemeni regime has targeted several leading independent journalists, including Al-Khaiwani, who was just sentenced to six years in prison with hard labor.” The group continued, “We note with concern that the U.S. administration has proposed doubling its foreign aid to Yemen, despite a regression in the Yemeni government's action on terrorism and civil rights.”

They demand that Al-Khaiwani be freed – either exonerated of all trumped-up charges or pardoned by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh – further stressing that Yemeni journalists must be free to practice their profession without government repression.