26 May 2010

Presidential pardon not absolute as journalists still facing jail

The Yemeni President's supposed pardon of journalists convicted or being tried of press offences is baffling the free expression community as journalists and media continue to have sentences slapped on them, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

President Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly said he would pardon journalists to mark the 20th anniversary of Yemen's unification on 22 May, report RSF and CPJ. But three-month suspended jail sentences were handed down just a few days later to an editor and four reporters from the weekly "Al-Nidaa" for "publishing false reports liable to incite violence."

"We're confused by this conviction because it would appear that these journalists are covered by President Saleh's pardon," said CPJ. "We hope and expect that these sentences will be nullified."A local group, the Committee to Protect Freedom of Opinion and Expression, echoed these concerns.

The trial for the five journalists began in November 2009 after the Minister of Information ordered an investigation of six issues of "Al-Nidaa" that focused on civil unrest in the southern part of Yemen, says CPJ. The accused are editor Sami Ghaleb, reporters Abdel Aziz al-Majidi, Fouad Mas'ad, and Shafee' al-Abd, and regular contributor Mayfa' Abdel Rahman al-Qiyadi.

Two journalists have been released from jail since Saleh's declaration of amnesty. Hussein Muhammad al-Leswas, who was given a one-year jail sentence on 2 May, was released on 17 May, according to RSF, and Hani Bashraheel, the managing editor of "Al-Ayaam", was freed on 10 May, before the amnesty, says CPJ.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Al-Maqalih, the editor of the opposition Socialist Party's news website Al-Eshteraki and a critic of President Saleh's government, had his trial suspended.

According to CPJ, the two remaining journalists in jail, Fuad Rashid and Salah al-Saqldi, went on hunger strike on 19 May at Sana'a Central Prison to protest their continued imprisonment.

RSF says the President's decision was announced at a reunification anniversary ceremony in Taez province by Governor Hammoud Khaled al-Soufi, who said the pardon was subject to their "putting their pens in the service of their country and helping to consolidate national unity."

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