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Journalist faces possible death penalty over photos "liable to undermine army morale"

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has urged the authorities to stop the prosecution of Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, a freelance journalist and former editor of the now closed weekly "Al-Shoura", on a charge of "publishing information liable to undermine army morale" under article 126 of the criminal code, for which the maximum penalty is death.

"Khaiwani is critical of the government headed by President Ali Abdallah Saleh but that does not make him a rebel," the press freedom organisation said. "We remind the authorities that journalists are, by definition, neutral observers and as such they should not be prosecuted for what they report."

Khaiwani has worked for several publications since his weekly was closed in 2005. He was arrested in June 2007 after the publication of photos he had taken showing abuses committed by the army in its attempts to combat a Shiite rebellion in the north. During initial interrogation, he was accused of "terrorist activity" because of his alleged links with the rebels. He was released provisionally after a month on health grounds.

The charges against him were examined by a state security court on 21 October and again on 31 October, when his lawyers challenged the legality of the prosecution and the competence of the state security court to hear the case. The presiding judge ordered an adjournment to allow the court to consider the defence's request. The next hearing is set for 11 November.

Khaiwani told Reporters Without Borders he was the victim of a "political machination" and said the judge who had been in charge of his case had been replaced by judge Mohsen Alwan, who was "known for his hostility towards journalists and for his links to the political and military authorities."

Yemen was ranked 143rd out of 169 countries in the world press freedom index issued last month by Reporters Without Borders.

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