Yemen: 'Those who weaken the whip of obedience would be killed' threat against protest organiser

Amnesty International has called on the Yemeni authorities to protect a human rights activist and journalist who says she has received a death threat for her role in organising and taking part in the continuing mass protests in the country.

Tawakkol Karman, the president of the Yemeni NGO Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights Journalists without Chains, was arrested on 23 January for taking part in a student demonstration in Sana'a. The demonstration expressed solidarity with protests in Tunisia and called for an end to the rule of the current Yemeni president, who has been in power since 1978.

Ms Karman was released a day later and charged with taking part in an unlicensed protest. Dozens of other activists were also arrested and charged with the same offence.

According to information received by Amnesty, Tawakkol Karman’s brother was reported to have received a phone call on 26 January asking him to either confine his sister to her house or “those who weaken the whip of obedience would be killed”.

Karman told Amnesty that she believes the threat came from the authorities. On several previous occasions she has been approached by people she considered close to the authorities and warned her safety was at risk and that she should be careful. She intends to pursue her work despite the intimidation. “I shall continue,” she told Amnesty. “I chose this road and at the end of the day it is a matter of sacrifice. People are peacefully protesting and they are facing repression.”  

The threat to Karman came as tens of thousands of protesters in the capital Sana'a continued to call for economic reforms, an end to corruption and for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down. The Yemeni government has been resorting to repressive and illegal methods to quash dissent, with human rights activists, journalists and students targeted.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Philip Luther said:

"The Yemeni authorities must treat this alleged threat to Tawakkol Karman seriously and take urgent action in accordance with her wishes to ensure she is not subjected to further intimidation or to physical harm.

"They must conduct an immediate, impartial and thorough investigation into the threat and hold anyone responsible to account, no matter how senior their position may be.

"Although yesterday's mass protest appeared to be tolerated and passed off without major incident, the authorities what appear to be increasing attacks targeting civil society activists involved in organising or taking part in peaceful demonstrations,"

Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Yemen’s Constitution. However, this right is undermined by restrictive laws and practices, particularly the 1990 Press and Publications Law, and by the Specialised Press and Publications Court set up in May 2009. The court appears to be aimed at suppressing dissent by fast-tracking cases brought against government critics.

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