February 24, 2000
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
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest the February 22 suspension of the opposition weekly newspaper Al-Wahdawi and the banishment of Jamal Amer, the paper’s columnist and editor, from the journalistic profession.
On Tuesday, a Sanaa court ordered the thirty-day suspension of Al-Wahdawi and permanently banned Amer from practicing journalism in Yemen for allegedly harming public interests, damaging relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and offending King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
The charges stemmed from an August 10, 1999 column, titled “The King’s Evacuation Complicates the Yemeni-Saudi Crisis,” that appeared in Al-Wahdawi under Amer’s byline. In the article, Amer analyzed power struggles that allegedly took place within the Saudi royal family during the summer of 1999, around the time when King Fahd embarked on an extended vacation to Spain, reportedly for health reasons. The author argued that such infighting could have a negative effect on the ongoing Yemeni-Saudi border dispute.
The court also fined Amer 5,000 rials (US$30). Both he and Al-Wahdawi intend to appeal the decision. The punishments are not expected to be implemented until an appellate court rules on the case.
On August 12, two days after the article appeared, Yemeni police detained Amer at his home in the city of Ib and took him to the office of the Prosecutor General, where he was questioned. He was eventually transferred to a detention center for further interrogation and held for six days.
CPJ, a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, views the suspension of Al-Wahdawi and the ban on Amer as dangerous threats to press freedom in Yemen. Censoring newspapers and stripping journalists of their right to work constitute flagrant violations of the right to free expression as guaranteed by international law. We remind Your Excellency that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular, guarantees journalists the right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Moreover, we note with grave concern that the suspension of Al-Wahdawi, if carried out, would mark the third forced closure of a Yemeni newspaper by authorities in the last six months.
CPJ urges Your Excellency to use your good offices to ensure that the ban on Jamal Amer and the suspension of Al-Wahdawi are reversed immediately. We also reiterate our call to the Yemeni government to adopt concrete measures aimed at halting the prosecution of journalists in Yemen in response to their professional work.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.
Ann K. Cooper