His Excellency President Ali Abdullah Saleh
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Abdul Wahab al-Hajjri
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen
2600 Virginia Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20037
VIA FACSIMILE +202-337-2017
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about government harassment of independent and opposition media in Yemen. In recent weeks, we have documented a disturbing pattern of censorship and intimidation of journalists in response to their professional work.
On June 11, the Supreme Court in the capital, Sanaa, upheld a lower court's decision to ban the opposition weekly Al-Shoura for six months, effective immediately. The banning stemmed from a 1997 libel case brought against Al-Shoura and its former editors, the late Abdullah Saad and his brother Abdel Jabbar Saad, by Islah Party leader Abdel Majid al-Zindani
The Supreme Court also upheld Abdel Jabbar Saad's sentence of 80 lashes and a ban on practicing journalism for one year. Saad was ordered to pay damages of 100,000 riyals (about US$625) to Sheik Abdel Majid al-Zindani.
Al-Zindani has since withdrawn his case against the two brothers, according to Al-Shoura. It is unclear what effect this will have on the Supreme Court's ruling.
This alarming decision comes on the heels of two other grave press freedom abuses:
- On June 10, one day before the Al-Shoura ruling, state security agents detained Yemen Times reporter Hassan al-Zaidi at the paper's offices in Sanaa. No reason was given for the action. According to a source at the paper, al-Zaidi was only told that there were "supreme orders" for his arrest. The same source said al-Zaidi was apparently detained for interviewing a kidnapped German tourist whom security forces were unable to locate. Al-Zaidi was released on June 25.
- On May 28, an appellate court upheld a lower court decision to ban Seif Al-Haderi, editor of the weekly Al-Shoumou, from practicing journalism in Yemen for 10 months. The charges stemmed from allegedly libelous articles published last year that accused the education minister of financial impropriety. Al-Hadheri received a suspended six-month prison sentence and was ordered to pay a fine of one million riyals (about US$6,250). Al-Shoumou was closed for one month, effective immediately.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ deplores these flagrant violations of the universally recognized right of journalists to report the news freely. We urge Your Excellency to take all measures within your power to ensure that the unjust rulings against Al-Shoura and Seif al-Hadheri are reversed. CPJ believes that no journalist should ever face criminal penalties for their work, much less flogging.
We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper