Al-Khaiwani to be freedPresident’s ‘gift’ [Archives:2005/827/Front Page]

March 24 2005

Yasser al-Mayasi & Mohammed al-Qadhi
Yemen Times Staff

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani political prisoner for the last seven months is finally going to be a freeman. President of the republic Ali Abdullah Saleh has issued a pardon statement in favor of al-Khaiwanil on Wednesday, 23rd March. This was especially surprising that just the day before this pardon, the Sana'a court of appeals upheld the 1-year jail sentence against Abdulkareem al-Khaiwani, al-Shoura's editor-in-chief, ordering interrogation of other seven journalists and writers.

Journalist's Syndicate welcomed this pardon as deputy president Mr. Saeed Thabet Saeed said: “We at the Syndicate welcome this decision although it has come quite late. And we demand that President Saleh strictly prohibits any future imprisonments of journalists “

Al-Khaiwani has been in jail since September 5, 2004 after the preliminary court verdict sentencing him to one year in jail and closure of his newspaper for another 6 months. He was charged with incitement, insulting the president, publishing false news, and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination as well as supporting cleric Hussien al-Hawthi's rebellion against the authorities.

The appeals court verdict that was red by judge Hamoud al-Hirdi said that the court approved of the primary court verdict, rejecting the plea of al-Khaiwani to suspend the verdict. The judge who already ordered that some advocates be kicked out from the courtroom during the previous hearing, also accepted the plea made by the press and publications prosecution that seven other journalists and writers be interrogated and tried. They are: Jamal Amer, Rashidah al-Kaili, Eidi al-Munaifi, Jamal al-Jubee, Abdulfatah al-Hakimi, Abdullah Salam al-Hakimi and Abdullah Sabir.

Abdullah Sabri, among the writers and journalists to be interrogated, told Yemen Times that the verdict is a good indicator of how press freedom is being hassled in Yemen. “Like the verdict, the court verdict is absolutely politically motivated. The legal condictions necessary for any trial were missing in this trial in which our colleague al-Khaiwani was not given due right to defend himself. Even during the appeals processing, everything was a mess as the hearings were postponed several times showing a sarcastic cenaris that does not take place except in Yemen,” he said.

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Several local and international NGOs like RSF, IFJ, CPJ, APFW and others protested the detention of al-Khaiwani and the bad treatment he was going through in his jail including beating and other sorts of harassment. They have been all expressed their concern over the continued abuses of press freedom. They urged President Saleh to intervene, even tens of Yemeni journalists staged Jan. 17 a sit-in in front of the Presidential place to protest the continued detention of al-Khaiwani and demanded his release but with no avail.

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The year 2004 is believed to be the worst year for press freedom in Yemen and its democracy, according to the Center for Training and Protecting Journalist Freedoms (CTPJF) annual report. It showed that the freedom of expression and press in Yemen in 2004 for the first time was severely targeted and scrutinized probably 'because of the growing role the independent and opposition press was playing in the society.'

The report considered the latest attacks on the press in the form of jail sentences, harassment, etc. to be truly unprecedented and never occurred even before approving political plurality and journalistic diversity after of the reunification in 1990 or even after 1994 war.

“What makes the year 2004 distinguished, compared to previous years, is that it was the worst and the darkest as well in the history of democracy and rights of press freedom in Yemen.”

Journalism witnessed sentences of imprisonment against many journalists. Some journalists were kidnapped by the police forces. A variety of other procedures such as revoking of licenses, harassment of journalists, confiscations of a number of private and independent newspapers. Cases of attacks, sacking from jobs and corporal punishment against writers and journalists were registered.”

The report pointed out that there are several publishers, editors-in-chief and writers who are still subjected to collective investigations in front of the prosecution under pretext of publication cases.

The annual worldwide press freedom index of last year showed that Yemen's position has dropped from 103 in 2002 to 136 this year. Yemen's position has not improved since 2003 as both 2004 and 2003 witnessed a radical decline in the level of freedom of the press in the country according to the index.

The organization issuing the index, RSF, has already expressed concern over negative developments in Yemen's record freedom of the press, which have contributed to listing Yemen even after Afghanistan (97), and Somalia (130) in terms of its attitude towards press freedom.

These developments have resulted in tensions, anxiety, and fears among journalists who feel that they are working in a risky environment and shows that press freedom is jeopardized.