Verdict described as “political”State Security Court sentences Al-Shoura editor to 6 years in jail [Archives:2008/1163/Front Page]

May 12 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SANA'A, June 10 ) The State Security Court, which handles terrorist cases, on Monday sentenced journalist and human rights activist Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, who is editor-in-chief of Al-Shoura weekly newspaper, as well as of the former, which the Yemeni government disbanded.

The court accused Al-Khaiwani of involvement in an armed gang, distributing publications supporting Abdulmalik Al-Houthi and his loyalists who are clashing with the Yemeni army, and inciting violence against the state.

Security authorities arrested Al-Khaiwani just as the court issued its verdict sentencing him to six years in prison. The editor then was taken to the Sana'a-based Central Prison, along with 14 other suspects the Yemeni government accuses of comprising a terrorist cell backing the Houthis in their fight with the army.

Numerous human rights activists and journalists harshly criticized Al-Khaiwani's verdict, demanding it be abolished. Describing it as “unfair,” they say it represents a new violation of press freedom in Yemen.

In a statement to the media, Al-Khaiwani said the verdict issued against him violates press freedom in Yemen, while Abdulmalik Al-Mutawakil, secretary-general of the opposition Popular Forces Union Party, commented that the Yemeni government has proven itself “very stupid in bringing upon itself various issues at both the local and international levels.”

At Al-Khaiwani's side was Khalid Al-Anesi, executive director of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, known as HOOD, who alleged that the verdict is “political,” adding that it disregards national principles of political reconciliation.

“The authority will pay the price for this verdict because it will find itself in a new war with the media amid the worsening national situations,” said Al-Anesi in a statement to the media, “This verdict has revealed the urgent need to establish an autonomous and neutral judiciary in Yemen because the judiciary must be liberated from this regime's dominance!”

Al-Anesi went on to note that while Al-Khaiwani's verdict can easily be challenged and appealed, the real problem originates from the lack of an independent judiciary.

Rights groups' reactions

Various local and international organizations concerned with human rights and press freedom strongly denounced the court's verdict against Al-Khaiwani, saying it is unfair and targets press freedom in Yemen. They distributed a statement to the various media urging journalists and reporters not to remain silent against this verdict, which, according to them is “political, not judicial.”

In a joint statement, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate and the Yemeni Artists and Writers Union said that they deplored Al-Khaiwani's verdict, which violates constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of the press and expression.

Both organizations were shocked at the verdict, which contained no real indictment against the editor. The verdict violates legal procedures in this regard, particularly as Al-Khaiwani was released on bail while his trial was in progress, according to the groups.

Both groups also agreed that Al-Khaiwani incurred such a verdict due to his journalistic activities, urging human rights groups and media organizations both inside and outside Yemen to stand in solidarity with the journalist and pressure the authorities to stop violating press freedoms in Yemen.

Jamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, stated, “Al-Khaiwani has been subjected to repeated hunting and arrest by security authorities due to his critical writings against the Yemeni government and the president, so this is the real reason he faces this unfair verdict.”

He continued, “Al-Khaiwani, whose freedom often has been exposed to risk, has changed from being a critical journalist to a prisoner of conscience. Thus, all relevant Arab and international organizations should step up their efforts to release the jailed editor, who is believed to be a direct foe of the Yemeni president.”

The Cairo-based advocacy group also delegated Dr. Hisham Manaa to visit Al-Khaiwani in prison and determine what happened.

The network noted that in cooperation with HOOD, it presented Al-Khaiwani's file to numerous Arab and European journalists and lawyers after discovering that the editor was sentenced to six years in jail according to direct presidential orders to the judiciary.

In a statement, a copy of which the Islah Party-affiliated obtained, the Arab Network for Human Rights urged, “We call for a presidential intervention to put a stop to violations of press freedom and repeated harassments of journalists in Yemen.”

On special award shortlist

According to the London-based Amnesty International, Al-Khaiwani currently is shortlisted for its 2008 Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat, part of the organization's annual media awards.

The award, which will be given June 17 in London, will be presented by Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist who was kidnapped and held hostage in Gaza for nearly four months last year.

Amnesty International reports that the Yemeni journalist has been targeted repeatedly for his work, suffering years of harassment, death threats, beatings and arbitrary detention.

On one occasion last year, gunmen abducted him outside a newspaper office, apparently because of an article he wrote concerning human rights abuses in Yemeni prisons. During the ordeal, he reportedly was beaten and threatened with death if he continued publishing articles critical of the Yemeni government.

“The Yemeni authorities are trying to silence me, seemingly even prepared to lock me up to keep me quiet. I definitely don't want to go to prison again simply for doing my job as a journalist, but at the same time, I'm not prepared to censor myself just to receive an easier life,” Amnesty International quoted Al-Khaiwani as saying.

The jailed editor added, “Amnesty's support means a lot to me. I think it's really important that they make these awards to journalists under threat.”

Amnesty International's U.K. Media Director Mike Blakemore said, “Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani should never have been on trial in the first place. His imprisonment looks like a clear case of the authorities putting an independent-minded journalist behind bars for his criticism of government policies.

Amnesty International's Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat is awarded by a panel of Amnesty experts and activists from the organization's U.K. headquarters and its International Secretariat. The chosen journalist is invited to receive the honor in person at the media awards ceremony in London. Amnesty has been granting the special award to a journalist for the past 10 years.

“If given the award, he'll be in the ironic position of being unable to collect it himself because of his latest imprisonment,” Blakemore explained, adding, “This situation speaks volumes about the poor state of freedom of expression in Yemen.

“The Yemeni authorities should release Mr. Al-Khaiwani immediately and stop persecuting perfectly legitimate journalism. They also should release other detainees currently being held for peaceful protest and peaceful criticism of the state,” he concluded.

Amnesty International is seriously concerned about the recent clampdown on freedom of expression in Yemen. Recent peaceful protests in the south of the country have resulted in the detention of several government critics, three of whom have been accused of undermining the nation's independence, a charge carrying the death penalty.

U.S. State Department condemns verdict

The U.S. State Department has likewise condemned Al-Khaiwani's verdict. Al-Khaiwani's sentencing to six years in prison “points to a distressing trend in Yemen of intimidation and prosecution of independent journalists in criminal and security courts,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Tuesday.

“Both Yemeni and international journalism and human rights groups have condemned this sentence,” McCormack added in his statement. “[Al-Khaiwani] himself has been the victim of violence, intimidation and kidnappings, which the Yemeni government has yet to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible,” he noted.

“We call upon the Yemeni government to protect Yemeni journalists and their right to free expression in pursuing their profession because a free and independent media is a key component of a democratic society,” McCormack pointed out.

Death sentence against Sana'a Cell Two leader

The same court issued another verdict Monday sentencing to death the leader of the Sana'a Cell Two for killing two security officers during an attempt to arrest him as he was accused by the government of plotting terrorist operations and backing Abdulmalik Al-Houthi , while another 12 cell members received prison terms ranging between one and 12 years.

Issued by the court's chief judge, Mohsen Alwan, the verdict stipulated that Jaafar Mohammed Ahmad Al-Merhibi be executed by firing squad for killing police officers Yahya Mohammed Rawaa and Abdulghani Al-Maamari while they attempted to arrest him at his brother's house in Daris area north of the capital city of Sana'a two years ago.

Under the verdict, convicts Ali Al-Hamzi, Basim Humaidan, Mahfoudh Al-Kuhlani and Yahya Ahmad Al-Kuhlani each will serve 10 years in prison, while Khalil Al-Hassassi and Ismail Al-Shami will serve eight years.

Ibrahim Ali Abu Talib was given a six-year prison term, while Ibrahim Ali Al-Kuhlani and Muna Ali Zaid were sentenced to six and four years in prison respectively.

Other cell members Yahya Sharafaddin and Ahmad Al-Merhibi will serve from one to three years in prison for possessing explosives and trading arms without obtaining licensing from the appropriate authorities.

Finally, the court acquitted suspect Saadah Saleh Khamis, wife of convict Ahmad Al-Merhibi, due to inadequate evidence.