Editor jailed for one year over Prophet cartoons

New York, November 28, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the one-year jail sentence handed down to a Yemeni editor for reprinting Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. A court in the capital Sana’a sentenced Kamal al-Aalafi, editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language weeklyAl-Rai Al-Aam on November 25. It also banned him from practicing journalism for six months after he leaves prison, and it suspended his newspaper for six months.

Three other Yemeni journalists are on trial for reprinting the cartoons in February.

Al-Aalafi was taken to prison after the hearing but released eight hours later on bail pending appeal.

“We are deeply troubled by this harsh sentence,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Journalists should never be imprisoned for what they publish. While we recognize these cartoons may have caused offense, there can be no justification for jailing a journalist because of what he published. We trust that the court of appeals will dismiss this conviction of Kamal al-Aalafi.”

According to CPJ research and local news reports, al-Aalafi published the cartoons to accompany articles saying how offensive the caricatures were to Muslims.

The cartoon controversy began in September 2005 when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published 12 caricatures 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.

Yemeni authorities filed criminal charges against three other journalists in February for republishing the drawings: Abdulkarim Sabra, managing editor and publisher of Al-Hurriya Ahliya; Yehiya al-Abed, a journalist for Al-Hurriya Ahliya; and Mohammed al-Asaadi, editor-in-chief of the English-language Yemen Observer. A Sana’a court is expected to issue its verdict in theYemen Observer case on December 6 and a decision in the Al-Hurriya case is expected mid-December, according to local news reports.