Government at it again:More journalists get jail sentences [Archives:2005/803/Front Page]

January 3 2005

Mohammed bin Sallam
Southwestern Sana'a Court issued four suspended imprisonment sentences of between four and six months on Dec. 26 against four Yemeni journalists and writers for criticizing the Saudi regime.

The group includes Abdulwahid Hawash, editor-in-chief of Al-Ehia'a Al-Arabi newspaper, organ of the Nationalist Socialist Arab Ba'athist Party; Dr. Abdulrahman Abdullah (currently hostpitalized in Jordan), editor-in-chief of Al-Tajamoa newspaper, organ of the Unionist Yemeni Assembly Party; Abduljabar Sa'ad, Secretary of Hodeidah Customs Authority (sacked from his job by high level orders); and Nabil Subai'a. All sentences are subject to suspension.

International condemnation resumed

In response to this latest development, prominent international organization Reporters Without Borders condemned on Tuesday the suspended prison sentences passed on the five journalists. It said that this development culminated a year in which at least 24 press freedom violations have been registered in Yemen and the harassment of journalists by means of summonses, prison sentences or physical attacks has become common.

“These frequent crackdowns on the press create a climate of intimidation that makes it extremely difficult for journalists to work,” the press freedom organisation said.

Firmly condemning the use of imprisonment to sanction press offences, Reporters Without Borders pointed out that the latest suspended sentences were in complete contradiction to President Ali Abdallah Saleh's promise in June to “work to put an end to prison sentences for press crimes.”

“As a result of these violations, the Yemeni parliament recently named a commission to investigate the closure of several newspapers by the government and the information ministry's respect for the law. Questioned during the most recent parliamentary session, on 26 December, information minister Hussein Al Awadhi claimed that there have been no press freedom violations and that all decisions have been taken in accordance with the law.”

The court headed by judge Mohammed Al-Raymi ordered journalists not to publish articles against the Saudi regime.

Advocate Jamal Al-Ja'abi, member of journalists' defense team, showed his surprise at the judgments since the defense had not tackled the subject matter of the suit.

“The defense team will make an appeal during the legal duration on behalf of the journalists except for Abduljabar Sa'ad who accepted the sentence on the basis that it is political and the lack of fairness in the trial.”

The Yemen Times contacted Abduljabar who has received a 6-month jail sentence with suspension. He said “the judgment is oppressive and does not represent [any] jurisdiction whatsoever. But it represents politics and its means. It should be known that we have spent around eight months in the trial The charges are not on the indictment list and the court and prosecution have not found any evidence, yet they have invented false accusations.”

Abduljabar added “earlier, before the sentence was issued, I had submitted a memorandum to the President of the Republic to clarify things, and that nobody was able to affect the trial course without his personal intervention as though the case lies with the President and not the judge.”

When asked about the kind of measurements to be executed after the trial, he replied “I am ready to accept the sentence even if it includes effective imprisonment. It is better than lingering at the doors of courts that prevent justice and flout Shari'a. I have been suspended from work, or as Al-Thawra described it, sacked on alleged offence. After judgment, I will have to try to get my post back as efforts have failed to convince the court to separate the public post from the court suit. With the judgment issued, the government will be convinced that my being sacked from the post is an unlawful arbitrary act.”

Abduljabar Sa'ad intends to apply for lift of procedures imposed against him and to be reinstated in his former post, but if rejected he will “rely on God and go to get bread from another walk of life. He who takes care of mujahidins in Iraq while beset with evil powers will take care of us.”

Abduljabar Sa'ad had written a letter to the head of Southwestern Sana'a Court saying:

“I have been informed of your unjust six month jail sentence with suspension. Due to many reasons related to the judgment and to myself, I have decided to accept the judgment without making an appeal. I have the following reasons:

* The sentence came after a delay of several months, during which I received no response to our repeated requests to set case the case motion.

* The sentence came immediately after resorting to the President, head of the Supreme Judicial Council, and not before that

* My belief is that appeal, whatever its results will not serve justice but rather oppression.

* Finally, my suspension from my post was linked to the trial. I could not obtain from you any response to separate this from that and direct the government to cancel this arbitrary action since publication cases are not related to my public post. Fearing the continuity of the situation, and hoping to reach a settlement with responsible authorities regarding the post, I accept this oppressive sentence with contentment.”

President media aids protest

Meanwhile, a number of senior media employees at the Presidential office had protested a decision taken by the Presidential Office Manager for being transferred from the Presidential office to the Ministry of Information.

Among the four employees was Abdulrahim Mohsin who had been serving in the presidential office since 1994. Mohsin told Yemen Times that he sent a protest memo to President Saleh asking him to interfere and order their return back to their original post.

“We request the President of the Republic to Interfere and the General local and International public to condemn such action and support us in our efforts to retain our rights through the judicial system.” the memo said.