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27 IFEX MEMBERS APPEAL FOR FREEDOM OF JOURNALISTS, CONDEMN REPRESSION

On 7 August 2008, 27 IFEX members sent a letter to the President of Yemen condemning the deteriorating state of freedom of expression in his country, including recent jailings of journalists.

In a joint action led by ARTICLE 19, the groups writing to President Ali Abdullah Saleh acknowledged "some progress in the human rights field" since Yemen acceded in 1987 to international covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They said civil society organisations, including NGOs addressing human rights and social issues, have expanded and developed. "Furthermore, the independent and opposition-supporting newspapers which have been established have adopted a critical stance towards state authorities, previously unheard-of in the region."

However, the letter said, in supporting the United States' "so-called 'war on terror,' [Yemen] has carried out hundreds of arrests of individuals suspected of being members of Al Qa'ida." In this process, security forces have harassed, interrogated and occasionally detained journalists who have covered these arrests.

The "high number of violations in the first half of 2008" included the banning of the newspaper "Al-Sabah" in March, revocation of the licence of the daily "Al-Wasat" in April and the blocking of the website YemenPortal.net.

On 11 June, Abdelkarim Al-Khaiwani, editor in chief of "Al-Shoura", was sentenced to six years in prison for his coverage of the war in Sa'ada province, allegedly a terrorist offence. In July, the court amended the verdict to hinder a possible appeal; meanwhile a hearing on his request for release has been postponed to November. On 22 June, Mohamed al-Mokaleh was sentenced to a six-month suspended term for "attacking and defaming the judicial system" after laughing during Al-Khaiwani's trial.

On 9 July, comedian-singer Fahd al-Qarni was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined YR 500,000 (about US$2,500) for "insulting Yemen's president." In 2006, vendors of his cassette, which combines traditional compositions with criticism of government policies, were arrested.

Activists who peacefully protested against these court cases have been harassed and had equipment seized. And Tawakkol Karman, director of the NGO Women Journalists Without Chains, has received anonymous death threats.

The IFEX signatories, noting government commitments to protect human rights through its 2006 National Reform Agenda, called on Yemen to take "decisive and immediate measures in accordance with international human rights law to uphold freedom of expression." They called for the repeal of legislation that establishes unduly broad conceptions of terrorist offences and that criminalises "insult" of politicians, the courts and judges.

Full text of the Joint Action: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95960/

(13 August 2008)

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