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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

Government Backfire on Reporting in Yemen

It is a well known fact that reporting from the front lines is a dangerous job, but in some countries, journalists put themselves in the line of fire just by going into the office. Earlier this month in Yemen, police opened fire on the offices of independent newspaper Al Ayyam for remaining active amidst government pressure to cease publication, and in an attempt to arrest the paper’s editor in chief. Amnesty International reports that two men were killed in the attack and one was injured. The daily paper has been reporting on the clashes in the south between the government and opposition groups.

In the past month, authorities have banned the printing of seven additional papers in an apparent attempt to stifle positive media coverage of the call for independence in the south. Al Ayyam reports that before the attack, its distribution trucks were repeatedly detained by authorities and its papers burned. Al-Ayyam editor Hisham Bashraheel told Reporters Without Borders that the seizures were “worthy of a totalitarian regime.”

Yesterday, Reporters Without Borders appealed once again to President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his information minister, Hassan Ahmed Al-Lawzi to condemn this comprehensive gagging of the press. But according to Yemen Times, an English-language publication, Al-Lawzi has denied any censorship of the press, saying that they went willingly, some because of printer problems.

The editors in chief of three of the other publications were arrested under suspicion of “undermining national unity” and later released. But what worries many is the special court recently set up to try press offenses. The government attests that the court is not politically motivated, just a solution for emergency press situations and to get all media related cases under one roof, but the timing and the lack of details about the new court have many worried it will be used to intimidate journalists.

Yemen was ranked 155th out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. For more information visit http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31456.