REGIONS:

PRESIDENT PARDONS OUTSPOKEN GOVERNMENT CRITIC

IFEX members and local activists welcomed the release of Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, an outspoken Yemeni editor who has been jailed since June on terrorist charges.

Al-Khaiwani left his prison cell on 25 September after receiving a Presidential pardon. Despite rumours to the contrary, al-Khaiwani told media news website Menassat.com that he made no promises in exchange for his release.

In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), al-Khaiwani thanked press freedom organisations who supported him. "I was not alone to face the ordeal because I felt that all the organisations were with me," he said. Lobbying by CPJ helped gain U.S. support to free al-Khaiwani.

In June 2008, al-Khaiwani and more than a dozen others were found guilty of supporting an alleged terrorist group in the northern province of Sa'ada. Al-Khaiwani was sentenced to six years in prison with hard labour.

According to CPJ and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the prosecution failed to make any direct link between al-Khaiwani and armed groups in Yemen. The evidence against him included only journalistic material, such as photographs of rebel forces and notes related to an interview with a rebel leader.

Al-Khaiwani, the editor-in-chief of the opposition website al-Shura.net, has repeatedly been targeted for his work. In the 15 years he has been working as a journalist, he has been abducted and imprisoned, his website blocked and his family threatened.

In June 2007, he was beaten and arrested by a security team during an early morning raid at his home in the Yemeni capital Sana'a. While on bail in August 2007, he was abducted and tortured by thugs, apparently because of an article he wrote about human rights abuses in Yemen's prisons. His kidnappers threatened his life if he continued to write scathing commentary about the Yemeni government.

IFEX members and human rights officials have repeatedly said the case against al-Khaiwani is retaliation for his criticism of the government and the President. His case garnered great international attention, with global media coverage and more than 1,400 people (including U.S. Congressional leaders) sending letters to Yemeni officials in the month following his latest conviction. Twenty-seven IFEX members signed a joint action in August condemning al-Khaiwani's prison sentence and the deteriorating state of free expression in his country.

During his latest stint in jail, al-Khaiwani was named the 2008 winner of Amnesty International's "Human Rights Journalism under Threat" award.

IFEX members continue to call for systematic reform for Yemeni journalists to work freely. Yemen has a history of clamping down on free expression, often in the name of supporting the U.S.'s war on terror. In the past year, security forces have arrested hundreds of individuals suspected of being members of al-Qaeda, and have harassed, interrogated and occasionally detained journalists who have covered these arrests.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/3lqy42
- IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/44c9sw
- Menassat.com: http://tinyurl.com/42r7rm
- Joint action: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/96074
- IFEX Yemen page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/232/
(Photo of Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani courtesy of NewsYemen.net)

(30 September 2008)

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We must urge gov’ts to protect #journalists and decrease #impunity, says IFEX’s @AnnieGame: http://t.co/rO65mtFlnu #EndImpunity