Members of press face death penalty over publication charges [Archives:2007/1106/Front Page]

November 26 2007

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SANA'A, Nov. 25 ) Editor-in-Chief of Al-Share' Weekly Nayef Hassan, the paper's managing editor Nabeel Subei and Mahmoud Taha, a reporter, appeared on Saturday before Chief Judge of the State Security Penal Court Ridhwan Al-Namer at the first hearing for a lawsuit filed against the newspaper by the Defense Ministry.

At the hearing, the press members demanded that the court adjourn the hearing so that they can appoint a lawyer to defend them. The judge then accepted their request and adjourned the trial until December 8.

The three journalists were summoned last Wednesday to appear before the court after the prosecution investigated them regarding the lawsuit by the Defense Ministry against them for publishing a story about voluntary fighters who support the army in the Sa'ada fighting. The indictment demanded that the three pressmen be executed under new legal provisions.

Referring Al-Share' Weekly to State Security Court provoked protests at domestic and international levels because the court specializes in terrorism and not in publication or press issues.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned last August that the lawsuit filed against the newspaper, followed by a raid on the newspaper's head-office, is a dangerous assault on the independent press in Yemen. The federation condemned charges filed by the Yemeni government against the weekly, accusing it of threatening national security.

It also criticized the government for trying the newspaper in a state security court, which is usually concerned with terrorism, adding, “If convicted, the suspected journalists will be executed.”

“We are shocked to see Yemeni authorities resorting to penal prosecution and directing charges to members of the press, and such charges may risk the lives of innocent journalists,” Aidan White, IFJ Secretary-General, said. “This issue has a terrible effect, as the media will fear publishing any reports criticizing the government or the army in order to keep its personnel safe.”

The Defense Ministry filed a legal action last July against Al-Share' weekly after the newspaper published a series of stories and reports about clashes between the Yemeni army and Houthi followers in the northern province of Sa'ada.

On July 30, ten armed men riding in a car with military plates raided the newspaper's office in search of chief editor Hassan, who was unavailable in his office at that time. The armed men threatened to kill him in the presence of newspaper employees.

Representing six hundred thousand journalists in 114 states, IFJ announced its support for the protests staged by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), which warned that referring the case to penal prosecution is a dangerous precedent that may have bad consequences for journalists. According to the syndicate, this precedent may have a negative impact on the constitutional and legal pillars upon which the journalistic profession has been built since the establishment of a unified state. “This may lead to abolishing the constitutional and legal protection of freedom of press and expression,” the syndicate went on to say.

Marwan Dammaj, YJS Secretary-General, had earlier demanded that the Yemeni government respect the rule of law, ensure legal protection for Al-Share' reporters and arrest the perpetrators who stormed the newspaper's office.

“The newspaper published an article about voluntary tribal leaders who joined government troops in the fight against Houthi supporters. The paper also wrote about corruption and the malicious desire of those who want confrontations between the government and Houthis to last for a longer period of time in order to serve their personal interests,” Nabeel Subei told the media. “It also published reports about groups from the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, an active terrorist group in Yemen, who backed the army in the fight against Houthis. These groups were training volunteers on how to fight the so-called Sa'ada rebels.”

In an unprecedented step, the case file was referred to penal prosecution instead of press and publication prosecution. According to Article No. 176 of the Yemeni Penal Law, the Defense Ministry filed numerous charges against Hassan, Subei and Taha, accusing them of harming national security and stability, influencing the Yemeni army's morale and divulging military secrets.

Owned by prominent journalists Nayef Hassan and Nabeel Subei, Al-Share' is an independent weekly that issued its zero issue on the second day of last June. The paper's first issue included reports about the Hashid fighters in Sa'ada, thereby drawing the attention of readers and researchers seeking facts about events there.

As the paper devoted a large amount of space for information about developments, conflicts and complicated relations in Sa'ada, especially the way army and tribal leaders deal with soldiers and volunteers, this has helped increase its popularity among readers, particularly those interested in the Sa'ada crisis.

Observers of the situation consider the issue a distinctive effort by the newspaper and its reporters, who they believe outperformed other private, independent and party-affiliated papers in covering developments in the restive governorate.

In an article titled “Bismarck”, a name given to Sa'ada volunteers who back the army in the fight against Houthi loyalists, the newspaper reported that a large number of these volunteers were killed by the army, while others fell victim to friendly fire. The newspaper mentioned that the number of Bismarck fighters exceeded nine thousand, most of who came from the Hashid tribe.

The paper's first issue included various subjects related to the Sa'ada crisis, such as 'Bismarck in Sa'ada', 'Bismarck's victims', 'Youths with happy lives', 'The difference between fighters and leaders', and 'Hashid is a threatening force'. The distinctive issue disclosed human catastrophes and war crimes against humanity in the northern governorate that has undergone repeated wars since June of 2004.