Journalists face serious accusations [Archives:2007/1071/Front Page]

July 23 2007

By: Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, July 25 ) Nabeel Subia', managing editor of Al-Shar'a Newspaper, on Saturday demanded the presence of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate alongside his lawyer in the case being launched against Al-Shar'a by the state. “Unfortunately our demands, which we raised to the attorney general, of the incapacity of the state security to handle this case had been refused,” Subia' stated after the session.

In their lawsuit against Al-Shar'a, an independent newspaper, which published its first issue last June, the state prosecution is focusing on terrorism issues. Supporting evidence presented thus far includes the newspaper's publishing of a file on events taking place in Sa'ada, including field information about government allied tribal gunmen. This file proved controversial because it implicated the state in having hands of tribesmen in the Sa'ada war. The publication of this file led the Ministry of Defense to accuse Al-Shar'a of attempting to shake security of the state, in addition to affecting state troop morale and revealing information about government field operations without prior permission.

Five months ago, an official newspaper warned satellite channels, news agencies and newspapers about publishing any statements by Yahya and Abulmalik Al-Houthi or their followers, considering the publishing of such statements as a counteract against Yemeni security forces and support for terrorists.

“It is a very serious case,” Mr. Subai commented, confirming that his newspaper handled the Sa'ada issue very professionally and objectively. “It is the first time that a newspaper has been referred to the state security prosecution, which is considered unprecedented,” he added, insisting that accusations against Al-Shar'a are baseless. “The accusations we face can lead to the shut down of the newspaper and maybe to a death sentence,” he added.

Khaled Al-Ansi, Al-Shar'a lawyer, insisted that this prosecution is unauthorized and unconstitutional, warning that the case will be the first step in charging Yemeni journalists with serious accusations that may lead to capital punishment. “We have already warned that there are some lawful texts in Yemeni press law that may lead to a death sentence. Some people thought that we were exaggerating. However these texts exist in the law and can be misused,” Al-Ansi stated. He added, “Even the penalty will be death sentences with stay of execution, or fine or whatever. Accusing the journalists with such accusations by this authority (state security authority) is considered a very dangerous sign of misusing such legal texts.”

Al-Ansi is the second attorney of the newspaper after Jamal Al-Ja'bi who represented Al-Shar'a during the trial's first session before being thrown off the case at the request of state prosecution. Al-Ja'bi was removed from his position as the newspaper's defense attorney by the judge in the middle of proceedings.

The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate considered referral of the complaint made against Al-Shar'a to specialized state prosecution as setting a dangerous precedent for the relationship between the media and government. Additionally, the syndicate claimed that such an extreme measure not only harms Al-Shar'a Newspaper and its affiliates, but also exceeds constitutional and legal bounds, which have protected the press since the unification of Yemen. The syndicate also stated that these arbitration measures lead to abolishment of the constitutional and legal protection for freedom of press and right of expression.

In a related case, last week the editor-in-chief of Al-Wassat Newspaper Jamal Amer attended a hearing before the press prosecution, his newspaper facing accusations of publishing a group of articles that criticized and insulted the president, and offended Yemeni-Saudi relations. Al-Wassat deemed such accusations as proof of the “constant contracting of press rights.” Amer further stated that he is unsure of the penalty but he is expecting one year in jail and a fine. “The problem is we are not just facing the press law but we are also facing the criminal law,” he explained.

This is not the first time that Al-Wassat faced accusations. In 2006, the newspaper was defamed by official state newspaper, Al Thawra, which accused Al-Wassat of intrigue and betraying Yemen in the interest of a foreign country.