Report on Freedom of Press Violations in Yemen during 2000 Part 3 in a Series [Archives:2001/24/Law & Diplomacy]

June 11 2001

Mohamed Sadiq
Head of Administrative Affairs, YJS

This is regarding to the case of Journalist Jamal Amir of Al-Wahdawi weekly, the mouthpiece of the Nasserite People’s Unionist Movement, which is one of the most prominent Yemeni opposition parties. A lawsuit was filed by the Ministry of Information on 22 February 2000 against the writer and the newspaper. The verdict sentenced him to a life ban on writing in any newspaper plus a fine. The newspaper he writes in would be suspended for a month. This penalty is imposed for writing an article that “harmed Yemeni-Saudi relationships.”The YJS reacted swiftly to the sentence, which it considered a serious violation of the freedom of press in Yemen. The sentence also raised a lot of concern over the judicial process in the country as it deprived a journalist of writing which is like sentencing him to death.
The syndicate released a statement immediately after the verdict denouncing the sentence. It called upon the president to interfere personally as the chairman of the Supreme Judicial Board and let freedom of press prevail.
The columnist and newspaper both appealed against the sentence, but the case is still not finalized due to the slow progress of the judicial procedures and frequent postponements of the court sessions.
Security Offenses and Prevention from Working
The second case recorded on May 25, 2000 was about what London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi Daily correspondent, Khalid Al-Hammadi, along with Dubai-based Ittihad’s correspondent, Arafat Mudabish had gone through. The two journalists were beaten up severely by officials belonging to the criminal investigation bureau and the police. They were also prevented from covering the case of the famous Sana’a Faculty of Medicine ripper, Mohamed Adam, and the protests of thousands of Sanaa University students.
The YJS released a statement harshly denouncing the oppression against the two journalists, and called it a dangerous step taken by those governmental forces in endangering their lives while carrying on their missions in journalism according to local values and regulations. In its statement, the YJS demanded a complete investigation by the Interior Ministry in the two cases of assault against Al-Hammadi and Mudabish and requested the trial of the assailants.
It is worth mentioning that the authorities frequently issue the statements defending freedom of the press and of journalists from any assaults, expressing determination to punish any act of atrocity against the press.
Wide Infidelity Accusations and Lawsuit for a Republished Novel
The third case presented in the report was among the most outrageous and widely condemned cases in the history of Yemen. The YJS gave this case the greatest conspicuity in terms of space in its report. The issue gained wide coverage locally, regionally, and internationally.
On 17 June 2000, the YJS reported a complaint by Samir Rashad Al-Yusufi the Editor-in-Chief of ‘Al-Thaqafia’ weekly magazine published by the Taiz-based governmental Jumhuria Publishing and Distribution Establishment. Al-Yusufi complained about the threats and infidelity accusations against him by several prominent religious leaders in the Yemeni Congregation for Reforms (Islah) party, which is the most prominent Islamic party in Yemen. The accusations were directed against his republishing of a literary novel entitled, “Sanaa: An Open City” first published 30 years ago by the writer late Mohamed Abdulwali.
Al-Yusufi was accused of republishing a novel that insults God’s name. Following that, a yet more intense campaign was launched against him by mosque preachers and religious scholars. The campaign was not limited to him alone, but it was also directed against journalists and intellectual masses in general. The campaign culminated in a lawsuit filed against the newspaper and its editor. The religious propaganda trigerred in having thousands of armed men guard the court sessions, and the forming of charity funds in mosques, etc. to support the case against Al-Yusufi in the courts.
On its part, the YJS started an aggressive mission in defense of Al-Yusufi and released a statement in support of Al-Thaqafiah and its editor warning against the dangers of using religion and infidelity claims against anyone. It continued to follow up the developments in the case, attended court sessions and formed one follow-up committee and another committee of lawyers to defend the accused in the various stages of the trial.
On the 10th of July 2000, the YJS held a support gathering at its main office to which it invited all civil society establishments dealing with human rights and the press to combat the infidelity campaign that was by then widely known. The syndicate also released a statement condemning the assault by armed men who supported the religious cause embodied in the lawsuit of July 16 2000 against lawyer Dr. Mohamed Al-Mikhlafi, who was a member of the defense team of Al-Yusufi. The YJS warned of dire consequences due to this assault carried out in front of the Southwest Court of Sanaa City. It also gave a call to bring an end to the deteriorating situation before it was too late. The syndicate called upon all journalists, intellectuals, members of the lawyers syndicate, representatives of civil society organizations, and others interested in human rights and freedoms of press to join a forum held at the syndicate’s premises to discuss this issue and stop the crisis from further deepening.
As a part of the general meeting held in the morning of June 18 2000, a press conference was held in which former Minister of Information, Abdulrahman Al-Akwa’ responded to a volley of the participants from regarding Al-Yusufi’s case.
Another meeting was held the next day at the syndicate premises during which several groups and vocational unions presented their view points on the case and their next move to support Al-Thaqafiah and its editor-in-chief. They along with the syndicate issued then a message to the President requesting him to interfere in the matter and have law and justice enforced to avoid any possible sedition.
The case continued despite all that and snowballed to become a political battle between the General People’s Congress (GPC) and Islah. A battle of words and accusations ensued and they even filed lawsuits against each other. The war ended after the interference of the president who ordered the suspension of the whole case, followed by a reconciliation accord under the initiative of the vice president in his own house in the presence of tens of media people and party representatives. The two main articles of the accord were:
1-Ending the media war between the two parties
2-Withdrawing the cases against the two sides
Illegal Chase & Arrest by Security Forces
The report also mentioned the case of Seif Al-Hadhiri, editor-in-chief of Al-Shumou’ independent weekly newspaper. The case was reported on June 30 2000 after Al-Hadhiri was arrested by security forces after two days of chase on 28-29 June 2000. He was then taken to the capital secretariat where he was arrested and kept in illegal confinement for 2 hours.
The syndicate in a press release stated that the report of Al-Hadhiri’s arrest was the third related to his newspaper and to him personally. This, as the press release said, contradicts the already set rules and regulations. The syndicate requested the immediate investigation into the security forces’ arrest of Al-Hadhiri, stressing that such activities ruin the image of the press freedom in Yemen no matter what the provocations were. It asserted that they should have used the legal methods based on Yemeni laws.
On July 30, Ammar Al-Kuhlani, a correspondent of Al-Balagh independent weekly newspaper was kidnapped by the Political Security Office (PSO) in Amran governorate after he had written a news item about a rape incident. Consequently, the YJS issued a prerelease supporting Al-Balagh, which had requested the Ministry of Interior, authorities at the Amran governorate to secure the release of kidnapped correspondent as soon as possible. The syndicate condemned the reprehensible acts of those security forces. The chairman of the syndicate, Mahboob Ali met with the PSO officers at the syndicate’s premises on the 8th of August 2000. During the meeting he expressed his dismay at the way the PSO handles things in violation of all laws which amount to suppression of the press in Yemen.
The PSO is an investigation bureau linked directly to the President of the Republic and is not in any way subject to supervision, control, or audit. Arab and international organizations and committees concerned with human rights and freedoms have harshly criticized the PSO many times before. They have accused the PSO of being part of several violations of human rights. The International report released by the New York-based Journalists Protection Committee is among such reports, but not the last one of its kind.