The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned a judge’s decision to sentence a newspaper editor in Yemen to a one-year jail term in the continuing row over publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
The judge also closed the newspaper for six months.
“This sentence is harsh, disproportionate and scandalous,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ. “The case has had little to do with respect for religious sensitivity, but everything to do with an assault on the free press and journalistic independence.”
White said that the case against Kamal al-Olufi, editor of the Al-Rai Al-A’am weekly, who was sentenced to the jail term for insulting Islam, was a sign of intolerance of press freedom and was going against the tide of democratic reform in the Arab world.
The IFJ is particularly angry that the sentence was handed down in circumstances where the newspaper had not directly published the cartoons, but had only published an image from the web site of the Danish paper Jyllands Posten, on which some of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed were visible.
In its coverage, the weekly was defending the prophet and contesting the publication of the Danish cartoons, said the editor.
“In these circumstances, the verdict appears perverse and vindictive and a wholly unacceptable interference in the work of journalists,” said White.
The IFJ says that this jail sentence should be overturned on appeal and that pending cases against other journalists in Yemen on similar charges should be dropped.
“It is time to move on and to recognise that ethical decisions over what to publish should be left to journalists,” said White.
The IFJ is calling on journalists’ groups around the world to work together to strengthen ethical standards and quality in media to improve coverage of religious and culturally sensitive issues.
“Journalists and media professionals are well able to make the judgments that are needed to respect the law and the customs of the people they serve,” said White. “They don’t need judges, policemen or politicians to make these decisions for them.”
For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207
The IFJ has over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide