Journalist fears for life after being accused of blasphemy [Archives:2009/1221/Local News]

January 1 2009

By: Shaher Masabain
For the Yemen Times

ADEN, Dec. 31 ) Journalist Firass Al-Yafi'ee said that he fears for his life after being released from prison on Dec. 3, 2008 on charges of drinking alcohol. He was also accused of blasphemy but the later charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Some extremist individuals issued a fatwa [religious decree] stating that he should be killed. Brochures were distributed during the trail in the areas surrounding the court house and his residential neighborhood accusing him of drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam, and insulting the Holy Quran.

Having been released from prison, Al-Yafi'ee made it clear that he couldn't go out of his house. The reason is because he is afraid that zealous and misinformed youth might commit a rash act against him out of their own zeal for Islam in spite of his confirmation that he is innocent of the accusations.

“I am a victim of a conspiracy directed by the government and security authorities. I know that the security apparatuses facilitated and allowed the distribution of brochures which included fatwas calling for my death,” he said.

He held the Ministry of Endowment liable for allowing public accusation of being atheists against journalists and writers. He further appealed to the press and to international human rights organizations to stand with him.

Al-Yafi'ee who was working as the director of public relations at the 14th October Press Corporation, witnessed unprecedented escalation both inside and outside the courtroom during his trial. They also posted his photographs in public places alongside the religious Fatwa.

The campaign against Al-Yafi'ee lasted more than ten months, 318 days of this period was spent at the Al-Munsora central prison; he was released after the judges decided this period as sufficient jail time enough.

Various extremist groups exerted pressure on the court judges and lawyers, demanding that the court inflect the capital punishment against Al-Yafi'ee. He was released on Dec. 3, 2008, one day after Judge Anwar Al-Sayed issued the verdict. The verdict stipulated that Al-Yafi'ee be punished for drinking alcohol by lashing him eighty times, in accordance with Islamic Sharia law.

Many people from the Southern governorates, where Al-Yafi'ee is from, attended the trial and announced their complete solidarity with the journalist and his father Farooq Nasser Al-Yafi'ee. Farooq is a famous writer himself and is also a member of the southern political movement.

Security bodies forbad any visits to Al-Yafi'ee during his stay prison since mid-March this year after receiving information that there was an attempt to assassinate him inside the prison. The visits were limited to family members under tightened security measures.

He explained that this imprisonment came following a series of events. He was arrested in 1997 after being accused of spying for Saudi intelligence. His newspaper Al-Haqeeqa was closed because of an interview he conducted with Abdurrahman Al-Jafri, who was head of the national opposition at that time. He was subject to kidnapping and beatings in 2003.

In 2001, Sheikh Ottoman Court had issued three year sentence because of an article he had written about Aden's former governor, Taha Ghanim.

Several international organizations that are concerned about human rights condemned the violations against Al-Yafi'ee at the time. The New York based Center for Protection of Journalists condemned the violations committed against Al-Yafi'ee on more than one occasion.