The International Federation of Journalists is backing furious protests by journalists and media staff in the Yemen after police raided the offices of the Al-Shoura newspaper and detained the Editor in Chief Abdul Karim Al-Khaiwani.
The action followed a controversial court decision on 5 September by judges in West Sana’a sentencing Al-Khaiwani to jail for a year and closing the paper for six months. Mr. Al-Khaiwani was found guilty of supporting, through his newspaper, a rebellion against the Sanaa authorities by Shiite leader Badr Eddin al-Hawthi, and of defaming President Saleh. Mr. Al-Khaiwani has been charged with defamation without allowing his defence lawyer to appeal.
The court verdict – which also called for staff writers and editors of the paper to be interrogated – was sharply criticised by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. The General Secretary of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, Hafez Albukari declared that “It is unacceptable. This is but a deliberate attack against the Yemeni press and it clearly shows the will to undermine the freedom of press”. Mr Albukari called on the IFJ to exert further pressure both at domestic and international level.
“This is a verdict that challenges democratic values in the Yemen,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Journalists are rightly angry over this shocking injustice. It compromises free speech and calls into question the Yemen’s obligations to defend human rights and freedom of expression.”
The IFJ says that the Government should intervene to seek a review of the court decision. “It appears that our colleagues are being victimised by local authorities who are trying to stifle free and independent voices in the media,” said White. “Such an attack on fundamental liberties must not be allowed to stand.”
The storming in the office of the paper happened late on Sunday evening and the editor in chief was taken before the eyes of shocked colleagues, the place of his detention was not disclosed until protesters among the staff and others (politicians, lawyers and journalists from other publications) gathered in front of the syndicate. Some other colleagues said the office of the paper has been searched Sunday at midnight and officers from the security were accompanied by armed people.
According to the judgment, the editor-in-chief is to spend a year in prison and the paper is forbidden for publication for six months.
The incident sparked a spontaneous demonstration by journalists outside the offices by Syndicate members who are angry that the sentencing of the editor and closure come just two months after Presidential orders that journalists should not be sent to jail.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.