10 June 2008


Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, a veteran journalist and one of Yemen's most prominent democracy advocates, has been sentenced to six years in jail with hard labour for supporting an alleged terrorist group, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and other rights groups.

On 9 June, a state security court in Sana'a convicted al-Khaiwani, who was on trial with 13 other defendants, for distributing publications that called for solidarity with the Houthi rebels in the northern province of Sa'ada and for conspiring to carry out attacks on government forces and civilians. One of the defendants has allegedly been sentenced to death.

"Despite the courage of many Yemeni journalists, al-Khaiwani was exposed to legal prosecution because of his critical writings against the Yemeni government and the President," says ANHRI. "These seem to be the real reason behind the tough sentence."

Al-Khaiwani, the editor-in-chief of the opposition website al-Shura.net, has repeatedly been targeted over his work. In the 15 years he has been working as a journalist, he has been abducted and imprisoned, his website blocked and his family threatened. Last June, he was beaten and arrested by a security team during an early morning raid at his home in the Yemeni capital Sana'a. While on bail in August, he was abducted and tortured by thugs, apparently because of an article he wrote about human rights abuses in Yemen's prisons. His kidnappers threatened his life if he continued to write scathing commentary about the Yemeni government.

Al-Khaiwani's case has garnered great international attention, with global media coverage and more than 1,400 people (including U.S. Congressional leaders) sending letters to Yemeni officials over the past month demanding his release. Amnesty International short-listed al-Khaiwani for its prestigious "Human Rights Journalism under Threat" award, due to be conferred next week.

Speaking to Amnesty shortly before he was imprisoned, al-Khaiwani said, "The authorities in Yemen are trying to silence me and they even appear to be prepared to lock me up to keep me quiet. I definitely don't want to go to prison again just for doing my job as a journalist, but at the same time I'm not prepared to censor myself for an easy life."

Al-Khaiwani's sentence confirms fears of a clampdown on free expression in Yemen, often in the name of the war on terror. 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 independence of the country - a charge which carries the death penalty.

In April, a fellow dissident journalist, Mohamad al-Mokaleh, was accused of "attacking and defaming the judicial system" for laughing out loud during al-Khaiwani's trial, reports Arab media news website Menassat.com. Al-Mokaleh says he has been continually harassed because of his criticism of the Yemeni government. He is still being held.

Visit these links:
- ANHRI: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94351/- Committee to Protect Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/4ozvpe- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/64xgl5- Reporters Without Borders: http://tinyurl.com/5ldprp- Amnesty International: http://tinyurl.com/5v8zd9- Menassat.com, "A New Jersey soccer mom's Yemeni crusade": http://tinyurl.com/5w2d9n- Menassat.com on al-Mokaleh: http://tinyurl.com/3nhjtp- American Islamic Congress petition to free al-Khaiwani: http://campaigns.aicongress.org/yemen(10 June 2008)

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