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Journalist Abdul Karim Al Khaiwani receives Amnesty International Special Award for Human Rights Journalism under Threat

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 16 March 2009 IFJ media release:

IFJ Praises Bravery and Resilience of Yemeni Journalist during Presentation Ceremony of Special Award

The IFJ President, Jim Boumelha, joined journalists in Yemen today in celebrating the presentation to their colleague Abdul Karim Al Khaiwani of Amnesty International's Special Award for Human Rights Journalism under Threat.

In delivering the award during the 4th congress of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate in Sana'a, IFJ President Jim Boumelha praised the bravery and resilience that Al Khaiwani has shown during his long ordeal. "Abdul Karim is a very special journalist," he said. "He is one of those rare breed of journalists, some of the bravest and the most determined - those who are prepared to sacrifice their personal and professional lives for the public good and to put their future and even the future of their families and children at risk in order to ensure that our profession remains one of the strongest backbones of our democracies."

Al Khaiwani, former editor of Al Shora newspaper, endured years of harassment during which he has been arbitrarily detained, beaten, intimated and received death threats for articles he has published.

According to press reports, he received in 2004 one year in prison for "insulting the president". After his release in 2005 following a presidential pardon, he was harassed for several years before being arrested again in June 2007 and detained for a month, then released on bail. In August 2007 he was abducted by gunmen, then reportedly beaten and threatened with death if he continued to publish articles criticising the government.

In June 2008, Al Khaiwani was sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly conspiring with al-Hawthi, a rebel leader in the Saada region. Evidence consisted of photographs of rebel forces and notes of an interview with a rebel leader said his lawyers.

Following an international outcry, President Ali Abdullah Saleh pardoned him in September but a Special Criminal Court on Terrorism reimposed the sentence in January.

The Award was made in London on June 16th but Al Khawaini could not receive it in person as he was in prison. In receiving it on his behalf, Boumelha said "Abdul Karim is convinced that standing up to bullies and having to face up torture and imprisonment can make the difference. The IFJ and the international community of journalists are grateful that Amnesty is recognising the contribution made by this exceptional journalist."

Several attempts were made to deliver the award to Al Khaiwani since his release from prison, including one by the IFJ President which was thwarted after the Yemeni authorities indicated they would not allow him in the country.

At yesterday's opening session of the YJS congress, President Saleh, responding to a call made by the IFJ President, reconfirmed his pardon and announced that the charges would be dropped and the case closed.

In receiving the award in front of a rapturous audience of several hundred journalists, Al Khaiwani said "I want to emphasize here that this award is a recognition which I am proud of, it is also recognition for Yemeni journalism and Yemeni journalists. I thank Amnesty International for granting me this award which will support press freedom in Yemen. It also sends a message to Yemeni journalists that they are not alone in the face of authoritarianism, corruption and violation of human rights."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

For further information on the Al Khaiwani case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100406

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