Al-Rai Al-Aam editor receives jail time for republishing Prophet Mohammed cartoons [Archives:2006/1002/Front Page]

November 27 2006

Yasser Al-Mayasi
SANA'A, Nov. 26 ) The Capital's West Court sentenced Kamal Ali Al-Aalafi, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Rai Al-Aam weekly, to one year in jail and shut down his newspaper for republishing the Prophet Mohammed cartoons, which were first published by a Danish newspaper, thus arousing tensions and rage among Muslims worldwide.

Under the verdict, Al-Aalafi also is banned from writing for six months. The court justified its verdict against the newspaper and its editor for disgracing the prophet by republishing the cartoons.

Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) president Nasr Taha Mustafa denounced the verdict, saying the Supreme Court must reconsider the verdict as soon as possible. He noted that the court should have examined the newspaper's writings, which defended the prophet, and that republishing the cartoons was meant to show them to Muslims, not insult the prophet.

Mustafa regretted the issuance of a verdict of this kind, particularly after the Yemeni government has taken serious measures to abolish imprisoning journalists for opinion writing.

YJS council member Ali Al-Jaradi agrees that the verdict is unjust. “It's a violation against journalists and public opinion. Other newspapers, such as the Yemen Observer and Al-Hurriya, are anticipating oppressive rulings,” he noted.

He commented that the verdict pushes Yemen and press freedoms backward, especially after imprisoning journalists was abolished by presidential directive. However, such directives weren't made into law or legislation.

According to Al-Jaradi, today's Yemeni judiciary behaved like the inspection courts of medieval times. Both Al-Rai Al-Aam and the Yemen Observer sought to defend the Prophet Mohammed, whereas penalties seem to be imposed upon those who defend their prophet.

Regarding Yemeni laws and how they violate press freedoms, Al-Jaradi affirmed that Yemeni legislation restricts the nation's press freedom, noting that such laws contain clauses banning talk about heritage, civilization and the concept of national unity.

“A judge can interpret the legal clauses as he wishes in order to restrict press freedom and impose penalties upon journalists,” Al-Jaradi opined, “Yemen has committed itself to expanding the scope of press freedom and democracy, but none of this has happened.”

Al-Jaradi ascertained that the syndicate called on its members to stage a sit-in at its premises in order to express solidarity with journalists who face penalties and protest unfair legal rulings against the press.

Al-Aalafi commented, “The verdict is a scandal. It harms the reputation of Yemen and its judiciary. By all means, the verdict is unjust. It contains three sentences: the first jails the editor and the second suspends the newspaper for six months, while the third bans the editor from writing for six months, beginning from when he leaves prison.”

He added, “I appealed against the verdict, since it's the climax of fighting the newspaper, which criticizes corruption and corrupt officials. The verdict contradicts the state's moves toward expanding the democratic scope and is a massive crime against journalism and press freedom.”

Al-Aalafi confirmed that he invited his colleagues to hold a sit-in at the YJS to support abolishing the verdict. He noted that his life has become endangered, as extremists consider the verdict a condemnation, as well as a legitimacy for them to exercise misdeeds against press freedom.

Mohammed Naji Allaw, the newspaper's defence advocate, agrees, “The verdict is wrong and part of a series of violations against press freedoms.”

Yemen's Ministry of Information filed suit against the Yemen Observer, Al-Hurriya and Al-Rai Al-Aam newspapers and suspended them last February for republishing the Prophet Mohammed cartoons. Additionally, the newspapers faced harsh criticism from official newspapers and mosque preachers for republishing the images. Some religious scholars even conducted fundraising campaigns, collecting YR 5 million in donations to sue the three newspapers.

As a side note, the state-run Al-Thori daily attacked Al-Wasat independent weekly and its Editor-in-Chief, Jamal Amer, accusing him of hindering development of Yemen's ties with Saudi Arabia and working for U.S. intelligence agencies. The independent newspaper published an article insulting Yemeni relations with Saudi Arabia.

Al-Thori charged Amer with receiving support from U.S. parties and said the articles Al-Wasat published about Saudi Arabia reflect the newspaper's unwise and irresponsible policies.

The government-affiliated daily reported that Yemenis denounce Al-Wasat's articles, as well as its editor's behavior, saying his conduct is expected to expose both him and his newspaper to questioning because they violated the Press Law and harmed national interests and press freedoms.

Al-Wasat published several articles and stories criticizing Saudi Arabia, including an article by a U.S. writer attacking and criticizing the Saudi royal family.