Following his release from prison Al-Khaiwani vows to continue defending press freedom [Archives:2008/1196/Front Page]

September 6 2008

Mohammed bin Sallam
SANA'A, Oct. 5 ) Journalist Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani narrated his ordeal while serving a five-month imprisonment term for his writing and undertook to continue his activities in defense of human rights and press freedoms in Yemen. This came during an interview with the Yemen Times following his release from the Sana'a-based Central Prison.

“I was jailed by a false verdict after the regime questioned me over my writings, opinions and human rights and democratic activities for which I was awarded the 'Special Award for Journalists Under Threat' by Amnesty International. The court verdict reflects retaliation by the government against any journalists known for their criticism of its policies” Al-Khaiwani said in reply to a question about why he was jailed.

“There is no justice applied within the community or in prison. For me, the days I spent in jail encouraged me to continue my human rights activities, as well as to write about discrepancies and violations practiced by the judicial system,” he added. “When you stop writing and other activities, and live under siege and continuous threats, prison is the best option to express one's sufferings and ordeals.”

Unhealthy status of press freedom in Yemen

The journalist continued, “In general, the status of press freedoms in Yemen has deteriorated. Yemen has proven to be an unsafe environment for the media career, but journalism remains the most effective tool to help Yemen develop. Therefore, we expend serious efforts to update and develop the media status in Yemen.”

“I don't set myself as an opponent to President Saleh or anyone else. I am a Yemeni citizen who only seeks equal citizenship. We must not believe in the talk about an alleged democratic transformation since criticism leads to wrong official practices against journalists such as imprisonment, kidnapping and threats. The dire situation in Yemen obliges one to coexist with immense threats,” he went on to say.

Reforms necessary to enhance press freedom

According to Al-Khaiwani, respect for human rights and the freedom of expression need to be reinforced as part of a comprehensive reform program necessary to rescue the country from its current dilemma. Reforms should not be postponed and donors are wrong if they think otherwise.

The journalist noted that the authority works hard to convince the international community that democracy in its correct concept doesn't work in Yemen, and that the way the government practices democracy is the best option for the country. The authority exploits concerns over stability in Yemen and the war on terrorism to get support from foreign states. In fact, the absence of equality, a good judiciary system and rampant corruption create a fertile environment for terrorism and lead to instability.

“I never undertook to stop writing in exchange for my release. In a single statement, I pledged to abide by the constitution of the Republic of Yemen, which I have respected since the early days of my career,” the journalist said in response to a question about how he was freed.

“The law is the only thing that has power and influence. When the government said that my release was the result of halting the verdict's execution, this implied that journalists cannot feel safe”, said Al-Khaiwani.

He regretted the fact that the government did not allow President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Jim Boumelha to come to Yemen to hand him an award from the federation. “This behavior indicates the government's desire to continue its arbitrary practices against journalists and opinion writers. I believe that President Saleh can solve this problem if he has the will to do so,” he commented.

CPJ welcomes Al-Khaiwani's release

The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from prison of Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, an outspoken Yemeni editor who had been held since June on what were widely seen as retaliatory anti-state charges. Al-Khaiwani, whose case was the focus of an international advocacy effort, told CPJ that he walked out of a Sana'a prison on September 25 after being granted a presidential pardon.

_”We're delighted Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani is out of jail, but we remain troubled by Yemen's overall press freedom record,” said CPJ_ Executive Director Joel Simon. _”While this pardon is welcome, it is no substitute for the systematic reform necessary for Yemeni journalists to work freely.”

Al-Khaiwani is editor of the news Web site Al-Shoura, which is affiliated with the Popular Forces Union Party. In July 2007, Yemeni authorities raided Al-Khaiwani's home and arrested him on vague terrorism charges that carried a possible death penalty.

In June 2008, Al-Khaiwani and 14 others were found guilty of conspiring with Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, who has been fighting against government forces in northwestern Yemen since 2004. Al-Khaiwani was sentenced to six years in prison.

The evidence against Al-Khaiwani included only journalistic material, including photographs of rebel forces, notes related to an interview with Al-Houthi, and news articles such as a piece by Al-Khaiwani criticizing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the journalist's lawyer told CPJ in an earlier interview.

Among journalists and human rights officials, the case against Al-Khaiwani was seen as retaliation for his criticism of the government's policies and his writing about its nepotism. CPJ and other organizations campaigned intensively for his release.

Authorities had harassed Al-Khaiwani in the past. In 2004, while he was the editor of Al-Shoura, Al-Khaiwani was sentenced to a year in jail for allegedly, insulting the president, publishing false news, _and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination.

In August 2007, after he was again charged, gunmen abducted Al-Khaiwani while he was trying to catch a taxi in a Sana'a street. The assailants beat him and threatened to kill him and his family if he wrote anything perceived to be against the president or national unity.