Authorities crack down on opposition papers

New York, December 1, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the legal harassment of opposition and independent newspapers over the past month by the Yemeni authorities, including the closure of one newspaper and a barrage of defamation lawsuits against others.

The legal actions come amid a broader government crackdown on the media. Several journalists have been assaulted in a disturbing series of attacks on the press by security forces and suspected government agents documented by CPJ over the past five months. The government is considering adopting press legislation that would increase content bans and other bureaucratic measures that could be used to restrict the press.

On November 26, a court in the capital Sana’a closed the opposition weekly Al-Tajammu for six months. It barred editor-in-chief, Abdulrahman Abdullah Ibrahim, and journalist Adulraman Saeed, from practicing journalism for one year, and fined them 50,000 Yemeni riyals ($275) each. The court said an article by Saeed in September 2004 about political violence in 1968 incited ethnic conflict and threatened national security. The judge said the article also insulted Islam, Al-Tajammu‘s lawyer Jamal Jaabi told CPJ.

“The closure of Al-Tajammu and the writing ban on two of its journalists is an outrage,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The authorities in Yemen must stop using spurious lawsuits to silence the independent press.”

On November 19, a lower court fined the opposition weekly Al-Thawry one million Yemeni riyals ($5,500) for defaming two government officials. The newspaper already faces 13 defamation charges for criticizing the authorities and risks being closed down if convicted on any one of them. The court banned Al-Thawry journalists Fikri Qassim and Salahaddin al-Dakkak from writing for six months. The sentence was suspended but could be implemented if the journalists are convicted of a future offense. The court ordered the paper to print an apology in three successive issues to the two officials. A columnist for the paper, Mohamed al-Maqaleh, is facing legal action for an opinion article he wrote calling on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up some of his powers. His case was referred to the Sana’a appeals court on November 26. Al-Maqaleh faces up to one year in prison and a ban on practicing his profession.

The trial of Abdullah Ali Sabri, editor-in-chief of the weekly Sawt al-Shoura, opened on November 19. Sabri is accused of defaming Deputy Interior Minister Mohamed al-Qawsi by writing that the minister had ordered prison officials to intimidate a jailed journalist. If convicted, Sabri faces a year in prison and a ban on writing in the press.