May 10, 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
VIA FAX: 202-337-2017
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to strongly protest the prosecution of Hisham Basharaheel, the editor in chief and publisher of the independent thrice-weekly newspaper Al-Ayyam.
In a hearing this morning (May 10) at the Seera Court of First Instance, Basharaheel was charged with a multitude of offenses including publishing “false information,” “instigating the use of force and terrorism,” and “insulting public institutions.” The accusations are based on an interview with the London-based Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri which was published in Al-Ayyam on August 11, 1999. In the interview, al-Masri criticized the trial of his son Muhammad, who had recently been convicted of terrorism by a Yemeni court. Al-Masri also criticized the trial of alleged members of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, a shadowy Islamist group that was accused of kidnapping and murdering foreign tourists in Yemen.
If convicted, Basharaheel faces up to three years imprisonment and fines reaching 4,000 rials (US$26). The state prosecutor has also requested the indefinite closure of the Al-Ayyam Printing House which prints Al-Ayyam, a move that would effectively shut down the newspaper.
Moreover, a conviction against the journalist could potentially trigger the enforcement of a separate six-month suspended prison sentence previously handed down against Basharaheel on August 4, 1999. In that case, Basharaheel was convicted of “instigating national feuds,” “instigating the spirit of separatism,” and “harming national unity,” among other charges, in connection with an article written by contributor Ali Haitham Ghareeb and published in the February 27, 1999 edition of Al-Ayyam. The article, titled “Let’s Talk about Unity from the Social Perspective,” criticized the fact that southern provinces are governed mainly by politicians from the north of the country.
Basharaheel’s trial is adjourned until May 31.
Despite positive statements in support of press freedom made by Prime Minister Abdel Karim al-Iryani last July to CPJ vice chairman Terry Anderson in Sanaa, Yemeni authorities continue to restrict the work of Yemeni journalists in violation of international press freedom standards. In their meeting, Prime Minister al-Iryani told Anderson that harassment and threats against journalists are “abhorrent to our laws and ideals” and should be condemned. He added that the Yemeni government was “committed to freedom of the press,” and that it is “ready to listen to any report of a violation and ready to take action.” Regrettably, since that meeting, Yemeni courts have continued to punish independent and opposition journalists through prosecutions and acts of censorship which flout the most fundamental principles of a free press.
CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to examine all possible legal options to ensure that the charges against Hisham Basharaheel are dropped immediately and that Al-Ayyam is able to publish without future interference from authorities. We also reiterate our call to the Yemeni government to initiate meaningful legislative reforms aimed at halting the prosecution of journalists in response to their professional work.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your comments.
Ann K. Cooper