REGIONS:

PRESS FREEDOM THREATENED IN NAME OF WAR ON TERROR

A Yemeni journalist kidnapped and assaulted by suspected government security forces is the latest casualty of the government's fight against terrorism amid claims of protecting "national security", report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo), ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and other rights groups.

Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, editor of the online newspaper "Al-Shoura", was abducted on 27 August in Sana'a by six gunmen wearing civilian clothing and taken to a remote area 15 kilometres outside of the city.

In a press conference two days later, al-Khaiwani described how he was blindfolded and badly beaten by those whom he called "national security apparatus officers", and then abandoned without his mobile phone, identification or money. He was eventually able to get a lift to a hospital where he was treated.

During his abduction, al-Khaiwani was told that if he continues writing against his "masters", he and his family will be killed. The abductors specifically mentioned an article he wrote for "al-Needa'a" newspaper, in which he described violations against prisoners and the conditions in the country's jails.

As an outspoken critic of the government, al-Khaiwani has been imprisoned a number of times and has had his website blocked and family threatened.

In June, his house was raided and he was arrested for his alleged ties with a "terrorist cell" fighting government forces in Sa'ada, northwest Yemen. Recently al-Khaiwani was released for health reasons, but the state is appealing that decision, and he still faces charges in front of the State Security Court. If found guilty, al-Khaiwani could face the death penalty.

Al-Khaiwani's case is one of a recent series of condemnation and trials that appear to form part of an orchestrated clampdown on freedom of expression and opinion, under the government's guise of protecting "national security", FIDH says.

In July, a group of armed men driving military vehicles attacked the small, independent weekly "Al-Sharaa" in the capital, threatening to kill the editor and searching the offices, reports CPJ. Journalists at the paper suspected it was connected to terrorism charges launched by the Yemeni Ministry of Defence earlier in the month against the newspaper, which called for its closure and the death penalty for three of its journalists. The paper was accused of interfering with national security for its reports on alleged links between the government and tribal gunmen in Sa'ada. Fighting in the region has already displaced approximately 100,000 civilians.

The case has been referred to the State Security Court rather than the designated Court of Publications, the first case against a newspaper in front of the counter-terrorism court "where the rights of defendants are not properly ensured," FIDH argues.

Also in July, FIDH reports that journalists who were documenting and reporting a sit-in in central Sana'a demanding respect for freedom expression were severely beaten by government authorities, who also broke and stole much of their equipment.

FIDH is urging the Yemeni authorities to release all journalists that are being held in the name of terrorism.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to withdraw its proposals to introduce a new law which would make it a serious crime to incite others to demonstrate against the government. Earlier this year, ARTICLE 19 and the Yemeni group Media Women Forum (MWF) create the Media Law Working Group to discuss ways to reform Yemen?s laws that affect the media.

Since 2005, CPJ has identified at least six Yemeni journalists who have been the targets of assaults that were believed to be politically motivated. In all but one instance the perpetrators have not been identified by the authorities.

Visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/39mme8
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2o3xc5
- HRinfo Yemen alerts: http://www.hrinfo.net/ifex/alerts/yemen/
- FIDH: http://www.fidh.org/article.php3?id_article=4521
- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/34apw4
- Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières): http://tinyurl.com/2v4hqu
- MWF: http://www.yfmf.org/english/
- "Yemen Observer": http://www.yobserver.com/front-page/10012648.html
(Photo: With pens in hand journalists in Sana'a demand respect for freedom of expression at a July protest. Photo courtesy of "Yemen Observer")

(4 September 2007)

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