Official daily smears award-winning editor

New York, November 28, 2006—Yemen’s leading state-run newspaper Al-Thawra attacked independent editor Jamal Amer upon his return from the United States where he received the Committee to Protect Journalists 2006 International Press Freedom Award.
The daily ran a front-page article on November 26 suggesting that he was a U.S. agent and warning of possible legal action in response to his critical coverage of neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The article accused Amer and his independent weekly Al-Wasat of harming Yemen’s ties with Saudi Arabia and accused him of collaborating with U.S. intelligence. The attack appeared to be in response to Al-Wasat’s republication earlier this month of an article by former CIA case officer Robert Baer in Atlantic Monthly. Baer wrote that the ruling House of Saud was in danger of collapse.

The Al-Thawra article, titled “In whose interest the targeting of Yemeni-Saudi relations?” said that “The bad intention behind the publication of such an article and who is likely to benefit from it are no secret to anybody; particularly when we know that the editor of Al Wasat is currently visiting the USA and enjoying the care of some Americans known for their closeness to the intelligence services.”

Al-Thawra accused Amer of working on behalf of unnamed individuals to undermine Saudi-Yemeni relations. The paper also appeared to threaten legal reprisals against Al-Wasat. “What you are doing is being denounced and disapproved by the Yemeni people because it stems from frivolous, extremist, and irresponsible behavior. This kind of behavior would lead you to be accountable before the law because you are breaking the law and hurting the interests of the nation,” the paper stated.

“We are concerned by this verbal assault in a state-run newspaper on our colleague Jamal Amer,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Given the political reality in Yemen publishing these unsubstantiated allegations and innuendo is tantamount to a threat.”

Established by Amer in 2004, Al-Wasat has aggressively reported on corruption, religious militancy, and other sensitive political issues in Yemen. In August 2005, Amer was seized by four men believed to be security agents and held for six hours. The assailants beat him, accused him of being paid by the U.S. and Kuwaiti governments, and warned him about defaming “officials.” The men drove a blindfolded Amer to the top of a mountain, where they threatened to kill him. The attack followed an explosive Al-Wasat’s expose which fingered a number of government officials who had misused state scholarships to send their children to study abroad.

Amer has previously run afoul of Yemeni officials because of his criticism of Saudi Arabia. Before establishing Al-Wasat in 2004, Amer worked as a journalist for the opposition weekly Al-Wahdawi and was convicted of harming the public interest, offending King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and damaging relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A court once banned Amer from working as a journalist altogether.