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Singer and comedian Fahd al Qarni to face renewed charges of "insulting the president"

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 16 February 2009 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Yemen: ARTICLE 19 and Hood Condemn Renewed Prosecution of Singer-Comedian on Charges of "Insulting the President"

Yemeni comedian and singer Fahd al Qarni is due before court tomorrow to face yet more charges of "insulting Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh". These repeated charges come following a Presidential pardon that al Qarni received in September 2008 for the exact same "crime". The pardon quashed the previous sentence of 18 months imprisonment and a fine of YR500,000 (approximately US$2,500) pronounced on 9 July 2008.

"The targeting of Fahd al Qarni under the exact same charges again is a clear example of the censoring of artists who use their medium, in this case through songs and comedy, as a tool to criticise politics. This is a clear violation of the right of an artist to freely express him/herself through his/her art without fear of prosecution," said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director ARTICLE 19.

The new charges date back to September 2006 and concern cassette tapes produced by al Qarni that contain traditional folk compositions combining comedy and criticism of government policies. These compositions were not authorised by the Ministry of Culture and, in July 2006, members of the Criminal Investigations Bureau arrested six vendors of al Qarni's cassette in an effort to curtail its circulation.

ARTICLE 19 and Hood strongly condemn the Yemeni authorities' targeting of Fahd Al Qarni which is perceived to be a politically motivated response to his vocal stance against corruption in Yemen.

ARTICLE 19 and Hood call for the repeated charges against al Qarni to be dropped in light of his presidential pardon. The presidential pardon should apply to both cases as the charges are the same.

ARTICLE 19 and Hood urge the Yemeni government to reaffirm its commitment to the protection of human rights though its actions. This commitment was set out clearly in the National Reform Agenda, adopted by the government in 2006. Yemen has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and is therefore obliged as a matter of international law to respect the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the ICCPR. Yemen has also acceded to the Arab Charter on Human Rights which, under Article 32, guarantees the right to information and free expression.

Hood is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization. It was established in 1998 by lawyers, people working in the media, and MPs, all of whom are activists in human rights issues and the law. Hood is considered one of the first frontline organizations working to defend human rights in Yemen.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

Updates the Fahd al Qarni case:

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