New York, March 8, 2005—Lawyers representing an imprisoned journalist were beaten by security forces during a hearing last week to appeal the prison sentence of Yemeni editor Abdelkarim al-Khaiwani.
Jamal al-Jaabi, one of al-Khaiwani’s lawyers, told CPJ that the day of the hearing, March 2, he and colleague Naji Mohamed Allaw were invasively searched before being taken to a courtroom. When the three judges entered the room, the presiding judge, Hammoud al-Hirdi, became angry that the journalists did not stand when he came into the room. When one of the lawyers replied that they are not required to stand, al-Jaabi said the judge asked security officers to remove them.
As they were being taken from the courtroom, the officers began beating them. Hafez al-Bukari, the head of Yemen’s journalist syndicate, who was at the back of the courtroom attending as an observer, was also beaten when he stepped in the middle of the fray. No one was seriously injured
“This reprehensible attack underscores the mockery of justice this case has become,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Yemen continues to damage its reputation as a country that tolerates dissident media by putting an editor behind bars for his work and then permitting this assault against his legal counsel.”
Cooper added: “Yemen should put an end to this unfortunate episode once and for all and release Abdelkarim al-Khawaini immediately.”
During the hearing, the appeals court postponed its decision in the case of al-Khaiwani until March 22. Al-Khaiwani, editor of the opposition weekly Al-Shoura, was sentenced to one year in prison in September 2004 for incitement, “insulting” Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, publishing false news, and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination.
The charges stemmed from opinion pieces published in the weekly last summer that harshly criticized the Yemeni government’s fight against rebel cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Hawthi, who led a three-month uprising against authorities in the northern Yemeni region of Saada before the army killed him in September.
Al-Jaabi said that the beating continued while they were being pushed out of the court and that officers pointed their guns at them. According to al-Jaabi, one of the court’s senior directors kept telling security forces to continue the beating. Several other journalists outside the court intervened and moved al-Jaabi, Allaw, and al-Bukari to safety.