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Yemeni media and journalists targeted by spate of prosecutions

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns a sharp decline in the press freedom situation since the start of the second half of 2009. "What is happening in Yemen now is very serious," the organisation said. "The situation of the media is getting worse by the day, with one prosecution after another. The international community must intercede as a matter of urgency."

Al-Maqalih tried twice

Mohamed Al-Maqalih, the editor of the opposition Socialist Party's news website, Al-Eshteraki, and an outspoken critic of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government, has appeared before two different courts in Sanaa for trial on different charges in the past three days.

Al-Maqalih was kidnapped by five masked gunmen while returning to his home in Sanaa on the night of 17 September, a week after posting an article on the Al Eshteraki website condemning a Yemeni military airstrike on fleeing civilians in the northern Sa'ada region, where fierce fighting was taking place between government forces and Zaydi separatist rebels.

The authorities denied any role in his abduction for nearly four months. After being held incommunicado for more than 100 days, he was taken before the prosecutor of a special criminal court in Sanaa on 3 February. He said at the hearing that he had been tortured and deprived of food for several days. He was admitted to a Sanaa hospital on 24 March for treatment before finally being released the following day "for humanitarian and health reasons".

In the first trial, which began before a state security court on 17 April, Al-Maqalih is charged with supporting the Houthi clan of Zaydi rebels and with being in contact with the clan chief, Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi. Al-Maqalih asked the judge to rule on his abduction by members of the security service but the judge refused to register his complaint and said he could always complain to the International Criminal Court.

The next day, Al-Maqalih went on trial before a special court for press offences (created last year) on a charge of insulting President Saleh in an opinion piece published in the newspaper Al-Thaouri in 2005 about Saleh's promise not to run for re-election in 2006. The same court is also waiting to try the newspaper's editor, Khaled Suleiman, who sought asylum in Britain three years ago. The court adjourned Al-Maqalih's trial without a date being set for the next hearing.

One trial after the other

A court in Lahij (45 km north of Aden) meanwhile began on 18 April to hear the appeal of Anis Ahmed Mansur Hamida, an Aden-based reporter for the daily Al-Ayyam, against the 14-month jail sentence he received on charges of "attacking national unity" and "separatism" at the end of a politically-motivated trial on 15 July 2009.

Ahmad Al-Asdi, the editor of the newspaper Itijahat and deputy editor Mahfouz Al-Ba'ithimi', received suspended jail sentences on 18 April in a case brought by the information ministry over an article about the Saudi opposition in issue No. 49/50.

The special court for press offences sentenced Khaled Abdel Hadi of the Al-Eshteraki news website on 17 April to pay a fine of 10,000 rials (36 euros) and damages of 20,000 rials (72 euros) for a 9 February 2009 report about a sit-in by residents in Lahij province who were demanding the resignation of judge Abdelmalek Al-'Arshi.

The weekly Al-Nida will go on trial on 2 May as a result of a December 2009 complaint by the information minister accusing the newspaper of publishing reports that were false and liable to incite violence. Editor Sami Ghaleb, three other journalists - Abdel Aziz Al-Majidi, Mayfa' Abdel Rahman and Fouad Mas'ad - were interrogated about the Al-Herak movement and other articles which, in the minister's view, posed a threat to national unity and democracy. Al-Nida journalist Shafi' Al-Abd was arrested by National Security officials on 24 December in Aden on a charge of forming a political party hostile to "national security and unity" and was taken to Khor Maksar prison in Aden province, from where he was released on 27 January.

Fouad Rashed, editor of the Al Mukallah Press website, who was arrested on 4 May 2009, will go on trial on 24 May. He was attacked and injured by fellow inmates in Sanaa's main prison on 8 April. Salah Al-Saqladi, the editor of the Adengulf website, and Ahmed Al-Rabizi, an activist, will go on trial with Rashed. Arrested at his Aden home on 18 June 2009 and interrogated by intelligence officials in Aden, Al-Saqladi was transferred four days later to Sanaa's top security prison, where he was forbidden to receive visits from human rights activists and representatives of the journalists' union. He was finally transferred on 17 February to Sanaa's main prison. Al-Rabizi was arrested in Aden on 12 May.

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