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Yemeni news editor sentenced to jail for reporting on corruption

A Yemeni news editor who reported frequently on alleged misuse of a public reconstruction fund was sentenced to a three-month jail sentence in relation to one of his articles, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on an appellate court to overturn the conviction.

The court convicted Husam Ashour on Tuesday of insulting a public official and ordered him to pay a fine of 300,000 Yemeni riyals (about US$1,400). Khaled al-Hammadi, president of the local media watchdog Freedom Foundation, told CPJ that Ashour was free pending appeal, but that the appeal date had not yet been scheduled.

Ashour is the program director and editor of the state-owned Sayun Radio and a writer for the online website News Yemen. In 2011, he published a series of articles in which he accused a local government-run body in the province of Hadramout of nepotism, corruption, and the mismanagement of funds including the use of money for personal transportation. The Reconstruction Fund for Hadramout and Mahrah Provinces had been established in the wake of the deadly 2008 floods.

The manager of a local branch of the Reconstruction Fund filed a complaint against Ashour in connection with a line from his first article that accused her of having a direct "hotline" with the director of the Reconstruction Fund. The plaintiff claimed the line insinuated a romantic relationship, al-Hammadi told CPJ.

News accounts reported that the director of the Reconstruction Fund, Abdullah Mutafi, denied the allegations against his organization, news sources reported.

In May 2011, the editor was summoned for investigation. His trial began in June 2011. Ashour continued to publish articles about the Reconstruction Fund while his trial was ongoing.

"This conviction is a clear attempt by the Yemeni government to punish Husam Ashour for his reporting," said CPJ Deputy Director Rob Mahoney. "Instead of prosecuting Ashour, the Yemeni government should investigate the serious claims of corruption he has reported."

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