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Trial After Trial for Yemeni Journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists have reported that Yemeni editor Mohamed al-Maqalih has had fresh charges brought against him for articles criticizing the government. The CPJ states that this is the latest of a series of allegations which “constitute a pattern of judicial harassment.”

Al-Maqalih, editor of Al-Eshteraki, the website of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party, was summoned by the country’s Press and Publications Court in response to an article written in 2005 which criticized President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s plans to seek re-election in 2006 despite promises made that he would not do so. Article 103 of Yemen’s Press and Publications Law prohibits journalists from criticizing the head of state and Hael Salem, al-Maqaleh’s lawyer, told the CPJ that his client could be facing up to two years in prison if convicted.

Al-Maqalih is also currently standing trial before a state security court. He has been accused of supporting Shi’ite Zaidi rebels, the minority insurgent group has been fighting against the Sunni government since 2004.

This news comes less than one month since AFP reported that Al-Maqalih was released from custody for “health and humanitarian reasons.” The journalist was abducted in September and was held incommunicado until January 31st when he was finally given permission to speak to his family. Al-Maqalih asserts that he was tortured during his confinement, however, his complaints have not been addressed in either of his trials.

Freedom House’s 2009 edition of Freedom of the Press, considers the press in Yemen to be “not free.” The report reveals that the country’s Ministry of Information influences most of the news in Yemen through strict licensing laws, control of printing presses and the ability to manipulate advertising subsidies. Additionally, the Yemeni parliament is currently considering a draft media law to replace Article 103 which has been described by the Union of Yemeni Journalists as “worse than the law currently in force.”

“What is happening in Yemen now is very serious…The international community must intercede as a matter of urgency,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

If You Were Captured Abroad Would You Want it Kept Secret?

Many were shocked when the news broke that New York Times reporter David Rohde escaped after seven months in captivity in Pakistan. The details of his escape–including broken limbs and Taliban bribes –were notable in themselves, but most surprising was that hardly anyone knew about the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist locked away with Pakistani terrorists. In all the news of Roxana Saberi, Ling and Lee, and sadly, many more, where was Rohde’s media blitz?

As the story unraveled that the New York Times orchestrated a media blackout, convincing other news outlets and even Wikipedia not to cover the story in the interest of Rohde’s safety, the heated debate over self-censorship in the press began. And the controversy continues even as Rohde returned to work yesterday, to “perhaps the most sustained ovation ever heard in the paper’s newsroom” according to The Times and “resounding applause” as The Times’ Tim O’Brian puts it on Twitter.

Bill Keller, Executive Editor of The Times said that it was after consultation with experts in kidnapping cases, government officials, and Rohde’s family that they decided that “going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages.”

CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour recently interviewed about the incident on WowOWow said although she would like to hear Rohde’s thoughts on the controversy, she would want the world to know if something similar happened to her. “If I’m kidnapped I want you, personally, to lead the charge and make sure people know about it,” Amanpour said interviewer Lesley Stahl.

When reporter Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor was kidnapped in Iraq in 2006, the Monitor reports it was “criticized in some quarters for seeking a brief news blackout.” “That effort ended after about two days, with major news outlets saying they could not continue to sit on a significant story,” writes Monitor correspondent Dan Murphy. Carroll was eventually freed despite media attention, but for many (myself included) the highly publicized capture and eventual murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 remains heavy in our minds and the desire to avoid another such tragedy seems to be influencing the decision to self-censor.

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute and Matthew Ingram of the Nieman Journalism Lab both came out strongly against The Times’ media blackout, attracting much attention and criticism for questioning tactics that might have saved a man’s life. But there are two points that are hard to overlook. One is that Rohde escaped. He wasn’t rescued or released, he managed to evade his captors. And two is that even Rohde himself has hinted that his captors were merely looking for money, not political gain or to make an example of him.

As Ingram puts it, “the coverup has made things harder not just for future kidnapping victims such as Rohde, but for newspapers and other mainstream media outlets as a whole.”

It may seem counterintuitive to critique the handling of the situation now that Rohde is safely back on American soil, but if you were kidnapped abroad, would you want your story told or kept a secret?

Photo Credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times