Yemeni editor still can’t appeal, but . . .Al-Khaiwani case stirs CPJ action [Archives:2005/816/Front Page]

February 14 2005

Mohammed bin Sallam
The Penal Department at the Appeal Court announced in last Tuesday's session that the case of Abdulkareem al-Khaiwani, Editor-in-Chief of Shura Weekly Newspaper, is adjourned again until March 1.

Defense lawyers said that it was obvious that the court did not hasten the case procedures, contrary to the directives of President Saleh stating that case procedures for al-Khaiwani's case should be accelerated since it has been delayed for several times.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists met with Yemen's ambassador to the United States, Abdulwahab Abdulla al-Hajjri on Saturday to express deep concern about the imprisonment of a Yemeni opposition newspaper editor and a recent spate of criminal convictions handed down against several other journalists.

Following the meeting, CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said, “Those who embrace democratic values do not put journalists in prison for what they publish. If Yemeni officials are serious about democracy and human rights, they will free Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani immediately, allow suspended papers back on newsstands, and cease their harassment of the media.”

Cooper attended today's meeting along with CPJ board members Clarence Page and Gene Roberts, CPJ Middle East Program Coordinator Joel Campagna, and CPJ Washington, D.C., Representative Frank Smyth.

Al-Hajjri agreed to pass on CPJ's concerns to his government. The al-Khaiwani case will be looked at with a lot of care, he said. Hopefully, we'll see good results soon.”

In response to a question from The Yemen Times about the apparent injustice the editor has been facing in the last months, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abubakr Al-Qirbi said that there should be no absolute freedom of the press.

He said if there are any shortcomings in the Yemeni press law, everyone has to take action to push for the necessary amendments.

But he also appreciated the concern of pro-press freedom organizations. “Yemen values the interests of the international organizations concerned about press freedom with democracy and freedoms.”

In response to the meeting held on Tuesday Feb.8 between the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Yemeni Ambassador to the United States, Foreign Minister Dr. al-Qirbi said, “there should a balance between the freedom of press and what violates the social principles and the national solidarity. Laws related to press and publications have to be reinforced and abided by every one.”

The Public Forces Union Party released on, Feb. 10 a statement which reads: “the Yemeni authorities have the intention to impose torture to prevent subjects similar to what was published by Al-Shura in a pretext that such subjects harm the government-related affairs.”

Numerous observers believe that freedom of Yemeni press is dying because of the ongoing oppression on press and media personnel in order not to reveal facts about the policies of plunder and corruption practiced in the country.

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, Chief Editor of the opposition weekly Al-Shura, was sentenced to one year in prison in September 2004 for incitement, “insulting” Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, publishing false news, and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination.

The charges against al-Khaiwani stem from opinion pieces published in the weekly last summer harshly criticizing the Yemeni government's fight against rebel cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who led a three-month uprising against authorities in the northern Yemeni region of Sa'ada before the army killed him in September.

One of the opinion pieces that led to al-Khaiwani's conviction called President Saleh's military action against al-Houhi a “crime” and alleged that Saleh had obtained a “green light” from the United States before launching the attack. A second article condemned the government's actions as “state terrorism” and warned “terrorism begets terrorism.” A third piece criticized the army for the “ferocity” of its attack and authorities' failure to resolve the problem through “dialogue.”

The court suspended Al-Shura for six months, and al-Khaiwani remains in prison.

Since al-Khaiwani's jailing, at least seven other journalists have been handed criminal convictions, including Abdulkarim Sabra and Abdulqawi al-Qabati, editor and reporter, respectively, of the private weekly Al-Hurriya. The men were each sentenced to two years in prison on December 29, 2004, for allegedly “insulting” Saleh in an article in the newspaper. The court also banned the newspaper for a year. Sabra and al-Qabati have not been jailed yet, according to local journalists, but could be at any moment.

Criminal convictions against journalists in Yemen have continued despite Saleh's pledge in 2004 to work toward eliminating prison sentences for press offenses. Just last month, Saleh acknowledged during a speech that, “Democracy is the choice of the modern age for all peoples of the world and the rescue ship for political regimes, particularly in our third world.” He added, “Human rights are tightly connected to democracy and the state of law and order” and “we should remove anything that contradicts them and stand against all forms of discrimination, oppression, and exploitation for the human being and his rights.”