Abdulkarims release: reasons to be cheerful, part 3

I was only saying two days ago that “good news” in the human rights world isn’t really a cue for unrestrained joy. 

Releasing a handful of political prisoners while leaving thousands in jail (Burma) is not exactly an occasion for dancing in the streets (read Kate Allen on CiF this morning on the current situation there). Staying a condemned man’s execution minutes before it was to be carried out but leaving his life hanging in the balance for another week (Troy Davis) – how good is that? It’s a breathing space but not much more.

But yesterday’s news that the Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani walked out of prison in the capital Sana'a is excellent news.  

Outrageously Abdulkarim was jailed – for six years – in June for having had the temerity to report on a controversial conflict in the restive north of Yemen.  As some readers of this blog will remember, Amnesty was all set to give Abdulkarim a “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat” when news of his long prison sentence came through.

In the event BBC journalist Alan Johnston made a moving speech about Abdulkarim at Amnesty’s media awards ceremony in London even as Abdulkarim was sitting in his cell three and half thousand miles away in the middle east. The award had to be presented – in that sometimes chilling phrase – in absentia.

So, yes, it was great to learn that Abdulkarim is once again a free man. But let’s not get carried away. Abdulkarim has still served three months in prison essentially just for being a journalist and there’s nothing significantly different about Yemen’s hostile attitude to press freedom today compared to yesterday. As the Committee To Protect Journalist’s Joel Simon says, “While this pardon is welcome, it is no substitute for the systematic reform necessary for Yemeni journalists to work freely.” 

But for now one man less is unfairly imprisoned. Yesterday Abdulkarim kindly thanked Amnesty for its work on his case, saying his release “would not have been possible without Amnesty International’s solidarity". He also confirmed that there were no conditions attached to his release.  If any readers of this blog would like to send a message of continued support back to Abdulkarim – please add a comment to this post. I’ll gather them together and arrange for them to be sent to Abdulkarim and his family in Yemen. Thanks.  

And, finally, if the Archbishop of Canterbury can quote a famous Marxist theorist this week then, goddammit, so can I! 

When I was a student (MANY years ago!) it was very fashionable in my group to quote the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s dictum – in the face of adversity (he was imprisoned under Mussolini) you need to have pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will. This is spot on when it comes to human rights campaigning if you ask me. 

Annie Lennox knows a thing or two about this as well – check out her new video blog on campaigning on YouTube here.

Gramsci and Lennox: yet another unlikely pairing in the Amnesty media blog! Sweet dreams.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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