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One journalist sentenced to prison term, two others released as crackdown on media continues

(RSF/IFEX) - 11 May 2010 - Two journalists have been freed in the past 24 hours. Al-Ayyam editor Hani Bashraheel, who was arrested on 6 January, was freed on 9 May while Moaz Ashhabi, who was sentenced to a year in prison on 16 January, was freed yesterday.

But a harsh crackdown on independent and opposition media continues, with another journalist, Hossein Al-Leswas, getting a one-year sentence last week and more trials due to be held in the coming weeks.

The former editor of the Sanaa Press ( ) website and owner of the newspaper Al-Tajdid, Al-Leswas was convicted by Judge Mansur Al-Sha'e of the Sanaa special court for press and publication offences on 2 May for articles about alleged corruption within the Al-Bayda province power company.

He was taken from the court to Sanaa's main prison to begin serving his jail sentence, which will be followed by a one-year ban on working as a journalist. His appeal against his conviction was due to be held on 8 May, but it has been postponed without a new date being set.

Al-Leswas, who has specialised in investigation corruption, said he had documents that proved there was corruption within the power company, and he asked the judge to order the two men who had filed the libel suit against him, the head of the company and the provincial governor, to appear in court. The judge refused on the grounds that the court handled only press cases. The authorities did not investigate the corruption allegations.

Al-Leswas was physically attacked by the governor's bodyguards in January 2009 following an article about the governor's alleged involvement in other cases of corruption.

On 3 May, the day after the trial, the Mukhabarat (intelligence services) arrested Abdelsalam Mutabaq, the editor of the Al-Bayda Press website, for calling for Al-Leswas' release. After being held in a Mukhabarat detention centre, he was transferred to Al-Bayda's main prison.

Upcoming and recent trials

The editor of the independent weekly Al-Masdar, Samir Jubran, and four of his journalists - Sami Al-Kaf, Abdelrazeq Al-Jamal, Abelmalek Al-Mathil and Mohammed Al-'Ala'i - are due to go on trial on 18 May on charges of disturbing public order, inciting regionalism and threatening national unity.

Another Al-Masdar journalist, Munir Al-Mawari, was sentenced by the special press court on 31 October to two years in prison and lifelong ban on working as a journalist for libelling the president in a May 2009 article headlined "Weapon of mass destruction" that criticised the conduct of the war against Shiite rebels in the north of the country. The editor, Jubran, was given a one-year suspended jail sentence in the same case, as well as a one-year work ban.

Fakri Qassem, the editor of the newspaper Taez-based newspaper Hadith Al-Madena ( ), did not show for the court hearing he was ordered to attend on 27 April and is now regarded as a fugitive from justice. The nature of the case that was to have been heard is not known.

Artist Fahed Al-Qarni's trial on a charge of insulting the president in a stage play was postponed by a court in Taez on 27 April until 25 May. He was already sentenced to 18 months in prison and a fine of 500,000 rials on 9 September 2008 on the same charge before being pardoned by the president. That has not stopped the authorities from prosecuting him again, as they did with the journalist Abdelkarim Al-Khaiwani. Al-Qarni is meanwhile also being prosecuted by the culture ministry in Sanaa for distributing recording and distributing satirical songs without a permit. The cassettes were confiscated.

The newspaper Al-Tajamu' is meanwhile being prosecuted on charges of inciting regionalism and threatening national unity.

The trial of Mohamed Al-Maqalih, the editor of the opposition Socialist Party's news website, Al-Eshteraki, was adjourned indefinitely on 18 April. The trial of two other journalists – Fouad Rashid, editor of the Al Mukalla Press website (arrested on 4 May 2009) and Salah Al-Saqladi, the editor of the Adengulf website (arrested at his Aden home on 18 June 2009 – is due to begin on 23 May. Ahmed Al-Rabizi, an activist arrested in Aden on 12 May 2009, will go on trial with them.

Al Jazeera correspondent arrested

Faysal Mubarak, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Abyân province (southeast of Sanaa), was arrested on 27 April while covering a demonstration marking the 1994 war in the town of Lawdar. The security forces confiscated his camera, video cassettes and mobile phone and held him for several hours in Zinjubar's main prison before letting him go.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom that was released on 3 May to mark World Press Freedom Day.

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