Court annuls decree closing Al-Wasat weekly, fines Information Minister [Archives:2008/1152/Local News]

May 5 2008

Saddam Al-Ashmouri
For Yemen Times

SANA'A, May 3 – During its Saturday hearing chaired by Judge Mohammed Al-Qadhi, Capital City's West Court ruled to annul the Information Minister's decree suspending Al-Wasat Independent Weekly newspaper's license and the ban on its distribution. Under the ruling, Information Minister Hassan Al-Lawzi will be fined YR 50,000 to compensate for the paper's owner Jamal Amer, who is also the paper's editor-in-chief.

In a statement to the press, Amer said, “the court's verdict means a victory for democracy and freedom. The verdict confirms that the decision to withdraw license of Al-Wasat Independent Weekly is illegal, illogical and baseless. This is a victory for all Yemeni independent and free media.”

Amer also pointed out that such a verdict helped the judiciary system in Yemen restore its reputation. “Such a courageous ruling is a precedent and I think it will function as a message of warning to those attempting to violate democracy and press freedom,” he added.

Al-Lawzi, who heard about the news while attending a symposium entitled “Press Freedom in Yemen: Between Responsibility and Commitment,” in Sana'a, said he would appeal the verdict.

During four past hearings, the court discussed the minister's decision to withdraw the paper's work license over allegedly committing publication crimes that are banned by the current Press and Publication Law.

Al-Lawzi also accused the paper of publishing articles harming national unity and public interest, adding that the paper behaves in a way that damages Yemen's relations with other brotherly states, specifically Saudi Arabia, and fuels violence and sedition inside the country.

Al-Wasat Weekly's case provoked rage among Yemeni writers, human rights groups and members of Yemeni Journalist Syndicate (YJS), which called for the Minister of Information's resignation. The syndicate also demanded that the relevant authorities must reinstate any suspended papers, including Al-Wasat, whose editor has been charged and repeatedly for attempting to harm Yemen's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

On April 5, the Ministry of Information ordered the closure of the newspaper and banned its issuance and distribution in the market.