Yemen: Jailing of journalist in line for human rights award condemned

42-year-old jailed for six years this morning

Amnesty International has today (9 June 2008) condemned the jailing of a leading journalist in Yemen just days before an event in London at which the journalist is in line for a human rights media award.

Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, 42, the former editor of Yemen’s political weekly newspaper Al-Shora, was sentenced to six years imprisonment earlier today after being convicted by the Specialised Criminal Court in a case known as Sana’a Cell Two.

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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.

Mr Al-Khaiwani is one of many activist journalist and critics of the state in Yemen who have been persecuted for their peaceful criticism of government policies.

He 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.

Along with the Azerbaijani journalist Aqil Xalil, Mr Al-Khaiwani is currently shortlisted by Amnesty International UK for its 2008 “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”, part of the organisation’s annual media awards. The award, which will be made in London on 17 June, is to be presented by Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist who was kidnapped and held hostage in Gaza for nearly four months last year.

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.”

Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said:

“Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani should never have been on trial in the first place and his imprisonment looks like a clear case of the authorities putting an independently-minded journalist behind bars for his criticism of government policies.

“Mr Al-Khaiwani is shortlisted for our ‘Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat’ and if he’s given the award he’ll be in the ironic position of being unable to collect it himself because of this latest imprisonment. This situation speaks volumes about the poor state of freedom of expression in Yemen.

“The Yemeni authorities should release Mr Al-Khaiwani immediately and stop persecuting perfectly legitimate journalism. They should also release other detainees currently held for peaceful protests and peaceful criticism of the state.”

Amnesty International is seriously concerned about the recent clampdown on freedom of expression in Yemen. Recent peaceful protests in the south of the country have resulted in the detention of several government critics, three of whom have been accused of undermining the independence of the country, a charge which carries the death penalty.

The Amnesty Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat is made by a panel of Amnesty experts and activists from the organisation’s UK headquarters and its International Secretariat, and the selected journalist will be invited to receive the award in person at the media awards ceremony in London on 17 June.

Amnesty has been making a Special Award to a journalist for the last 10 years and past winners have included the Honduran online magazine editor Dina Meza, Russian journalists Stanislav Dmitrievskiy and Oksana Chelysheva, and the Guatemalan broadcaster and columnist Marielos Monzón.

The shortlist for Amnesty International UK’s other contested media awards were also recently announced. These will see awards made in 10 different categories - Photojournalism, Television News, Radio, New Media, National Newspapers, International Television and Radio, Nations and Regions, Periodicals, Television Documentary and Docudrama, and a Gaby Rado Memorial award to an emerging human rights journalist.

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