Journalists in Yemen and Algeria arrested over prophet cartoons

New York, February 13, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the arrest of three journalists in Yemen and two in Algeria for publishing controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Their newspapers have all been ordered closed.

Mohammed Al-Asadi, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, has been detained by the office of the print and media prosecutor in Sana’a, according to the Yemen Observer Web site. Yemen’s chief prosecutor charged al-Asadi with printing materials offensive to the Prophet and told his lawyer that the journalist was being held for his own protection.

Abdulkarim Sabra, managing editor and publisher of Al-Hurriya, and Yehiya al-Abed, a journalist for the paper, were detained over the weekend for publishing the cartoons, according to news reports and CPJ sources. An arrest warrant has been issued for Kamal al-Aalafi, editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language Al-Rai Al-Aam.

The Ministry of Information has revoked the publishing license of all three papers. CPJ sources said the journalists were held under Article 185 of the penal code that allows for detention for seven days, which a court can extend for a further 45 days. Under Yemen’s press law, if the journalists are convicted of offenses against Islam they could be jailed for up to one year. The journalists could face additional charges under the penal code.

In Algeria, authorities closed two weeklies and arrested their editors for printing the drawings on February 2. Kamel Bousaad, editor of pro-Islamist weekly Errissala, and Berkane Bouderbala, managing editor of the weekly Essafir, were detained last week, according to news reports.

The editors face charges under Article 144 of the penal code, which provides for imprisonment of up to five years and heavy fines. The BBC reported that the magazines have been critical of the Danish drawings and printed them to explain why they had sparked outrage in the Muslim world. The drawings were deliberately fogged. According to BBC, the two Arabic language magazines have moderate pro-Islamist views and print only a few thousand copies a week.

On February 2, the Director of Canal Algérie Lotfi Shriat and the Director of Thalita TV Houriya Khateer showed two of the drawings during news broadcasts. They were dismissed by Television Algérienne, which owns both channels and is government run, local sources told CPJ.

The cartoon controversy began last September when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published 12 drawings of Muhammad, one of them depicting the prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse. The publication caused anger in the Muslim world, where many consider depictions of Muhammad to be blasphemous. The cartoons gained increased attention after they were reprinted in the January 10 edition of Magazinet, a small Christian evangelical weekly based in Norway, according to local and international press reports.