Jailed Yemeni journalist given Human Rights Media Award

At risk 42-year-old recognised by Alan Johnston at awards ceremony tonight

‘The authorities in Yemen are trying to silence me’ - Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani

Amnesty International has tonight made a human rights media award to a leading Yemeni journalist just days after he was imprisoned by the Yemeni authorities.

The award - Amnesty’s “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”, made by BBC journalist Alan Johnston at an emotional awards ceremony in central London tonight- was made to Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, 42, the former editor of Yemen’s political weekly newspaper Al-Shora.

Last week (9 June) Mr Al-Khaiwani was jailed for six years, a move criticised by Amnesty, which said he should “never have been on trial in the first place” and that “his imprisonment looks like a clear case of the authorities putting an independently-minded journalist behind bars for his criticism of government policies.”

Reflecting on his own kidnap ordeal in Gaza last year, the threat to journalists around the world and Mr Al-Khaiwani’s case, Alan Johnston said:

"I benefited hugely from an extraordinary amount of public support when I was in captivity, and for that I will always be grateful.

“But of course there are so many journalists in countries like Iraq, Sri Lanka and the Philippines who go largely unnoticed by the outside world as they endure extraordinary pressures. Among them are some of the best and the bravest in our profession, and we need to be more aware of the work they do and the sacrifices that they make.

"Amnesty's Special Award is a chance to honour one of them - the Yemeni journalist, Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani. This is a man who has already endured the horrors of prison because of the stand that he’s taken. Despite that, he is determined to continue his work and has of course just been jailed again. That is an act of courage, and it is right that he is being honoured.”

Mr Al-Khaiwani, who was on trial with 13 other defendants, appears to have been convicted as a result of his professional work as a journalist, including his coverage of armed clashes between government forces and supporters of the late Zaidi Shi’a cleric Hussein Badr al-Din al-Huthi in the northern Yemeni province of Sa’da. Some of the case’s defendants were charged with violent activities and one is believed to have been sentenced to death.

Writing in Al-Shora, Al-Khaiwani has strongly criticised government policy in Sa’da and its serious impact on human rights. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people, including civilians taking no part in the violence, are believed to have been killed or forcibly displaced since 2004. The government has denied journalists and almost all independent observers access to the area and maintained a high degree of censorship.

Mr Al-Khaiwani has repeatedly been targeted over his journalism, suffering years’ of harassment, death threats, beatings and arbitrary detention. On one occasion last year he was abducted by gunmen outside a newspaper office, apparently because of an article he wrote concerning human rights violations in Yemeni prisons. During the ordeal he was reportedly beaten and threatened with death if he continued to publish articles critical of the government.

Speaking shortly before he was imprisoned, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani said:

“The authorities in Yemen are trying to silence me and they even appear to be prepared to lock me up to keep me quiet. I definitely don’t want to go to prison again just for doing my job as a journalist, but at the same time I’m not prepared to censor myself for an easy life.

“Amnesty’s support means a lot to me and I think it’s really important that they make these awards to journalists under threat.”

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani’s award was accepted by Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists. In an “acceptance” statement read out at the awards ceremony on the imprisoned journalist’s behalf, Mr Al-Khaiwani extended his “thanks and gratitude to Amnesty International, as well as to all those attending this event”, adding that while he was suffering a prolonged “ordeal” he has “never been alone, thanks to the solidarity of my colleagues and support from the fledgling Yemeni human rights movement.”

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