Al-Mahdhari disappointed at Yemeni press freedom [Archives:2007/1026/Front Page]

February 19 2007

Raidan Al-Saqqaf
SANA'A, Feb. 18 – The Sa'ada Penal Court last Tuesday sentenced journalist Abed Al-Mahdhari, editor-in-chief of Al-Diyyar newspaper, to one year in prison in absentia to be implemented immediately in a case presented by a judge in Sa'ada's Saqeen Court.

Ironically, the ruling was made against Al-Mahdhari by the same judge the journalist attacked in 2001. Al-Mahdhari had accused the Sa'ada Saqeen Court judge of corruption and bribery and he now faces a year's imprisonment decided upon by the same judge.

Al-Mahdhari told the Yemen Times he expects to be arrested at any moment. The specific court dealing with this case closed immediately after handing down the sentence, which doesn't give Al-Mahdhari a chance to file for appeal, and consequently, endorses the sentence against him.

The journalist expressed his disappointment at Minister of Interior Rashad Al-Alimi's attitude toward his case. He believes Al-Alimi should have a different position because he's responsible for protecting journalists, especially after President Ali Abdullah Saleh previously announced that journalists shouldn't be detained or imprisoned over issues related to publishing opinions.

He further noted that he met with Yemeni Journalists Syndicate Chairman Nasr Taha Mustafa, who promised to discuss halting the ruling's implementation with Attorney General Abdullah Al-Ulfi. Mustafa indeed met with the attorney general yesterday, who agreed that he wouldn't take any action until the Sa'ada court is reopened in order to allow for appeal.

However, Al-Mahdhari expects that Al-Ulfi's attitude won't be any different than the interior minister's. The journalist reveals that he intends to appeal the ruling; however, the Sa'ada judiciary currently is paralyzed because the area is the scene of military conflicts between the Yemeni army and Al-Houthi rebels.

He alleges that his trial was a military one aiming to settle political accounts due to his outspoken opinions against the military action in Sa'ada. He also believes it's an attempt to silence him, particularly since he's a Sa'ada native and has relatives there, so he was able to report war news from there.

Al-Mahdhari further expressed his disappointment at the situation of Yemeni journalism and journalists, adding that he's awaiting his syndicate's condemnation of the ruling against him.

Newly elected Yemeni Journalists Syndicate Secretary-General Marwan Dammaj commented that Al-Mahdhari's sentence was surprising and sudden, especially given that no work has been done on the case for years. He added that the syndicate resents such constraints against freedom of expression.

“Journalists shouldn't be imprisoned on the grounds of opinion. This is what President Saleh promised publicly, but no one really implemented it. We now demand that this law be changed totally,” he concluded.