CPJ urges government to honor pledge to probe attacks

January 30, 2007

His Excellency President Ali Abdullah Saleh
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Abdelwahab al-Hajjri
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen
2319 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20008

Via facsimile: (202) 337-2017

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled that one year after your government pledged to investigate a series of brutal assaults on journalists, the crimes have gone unpunished.

In a January 26, 2006, meeting with Prime Minister Abdelqader Bajammal in Sana’a, a CPJ delegation voiced concerns about mounting restrictions on the press, including a chilling spate of violent assaults on journalists that occurred in 2005. Government agents were suspected of carrying out several of the attacks.

During last year’s meeting, attended by CPJ board members Dave Marash of Al-Jazeera English and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, and senior program coordinator Joel Campagna, Prime Minister Bajammal stated that attacks on Yemeni citizens were unacceptable and promised to thoroughly investigate the assaults on journalists and make the results public.

A year later, however, those responsible for the assaults have evaded justice. Government investigations have proved either incomplete, or it appears that serious inquiries were never launched at all. In only two of the five cases that CPJ brought to the government’s attention did authorities identify suspects and initiate legal action. One of those cases was dismissed, and the other is pending with the suspects free. In three of the five cases, authorities have yet to identify those involved, and it appears that no serious effort was made to do so.

The cases CPJ raised with Prime Minister Bajammal last year include:

• Jamal Amer, Al-Wasat
On August 23, 2005 armed men seized Jamal Amer, editor of the independent weekly Al-Wasat, and bundled him into a waiting car. The men beat him and threatened to kill him while warning him against criticizing high-level government officials. He was released about six hours later. Amer, who was recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award last year, said he believes a car used in the abduction belonged to the Yemeni Republican Guard, based on the numeric configuration of its license plate, 11121/2. Just before the attack, Al-Wasat, alleging nepotism, published the names of relatives of government officials who were recipients of government scholarships to study abroad. Yemen’s Interior Ministry acknowledged to Amer that it was a military plate, but initially asserted that it belonged to a vehicle stolen during the country’s 1994 civil war. When Amer later discovered that the plate wasn’t issued until 2004, the ministry offered a different account: The tags belonged to a deceased military officer whose family sold them with the officer’s car. According to Amer, officials have failed to disclose any information about the status of their investigation and said those responsible for the assault remain at large.
• Haga’ al-Jehafi, Al-Nahar
On July 17, 2005, al-Jehafi, editor of the weekly newspaper Al-Nahar, was wounded when he opened a file folder that was delivered to him at his office and it exploded. Al-Jehafi believes that a local sheikh whom he had criticized in his newspaper was behind the attack. Al-Jehafi says that police and security forces questioned him after the attack, but no further action was taken.

• Nabil SubaieOn November 12, 2005 two men assaulted then-27-year-old freelance journalist Nabil Subaie near Sana’a University while he was on his way home. One of the assailants stabbed Subaie twice in the back and once in the hand using a curved Yemeni dagger. The men fled in a blue Mazda without a license plate. Subaie had been a frequent critic of Your Excellency’s policies, wrote about your son as a possible successor, and reported on government misdeeds. In 2006, three suspects stood trial in the assault, but were freed pending its outcome.

• Mujeeb Suwailih, Al-Arabiya, and Najib al-Sharabi, Al-Ekhbariya On October 29, 2005 Mujeeb Suwailih, a cameraman for the pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, and Najib al-Sharabi, a correspondent for the Saudi Arabia-based satellite channel Al-Ekhbariya, were covering a strike by employees of a public textile factory in Sana’a when they were attacked by Yemeni security officers. Suwailih was beaten when he refused to hand over his camera, suffering three broken ribs. Both journalists were detained for several hours at a nearby police station where they were threatened by the same officers who attacked them earlier. Al-Arabiya filed a complaint to the state prosecutor and the interior ministry, but no action was taken to identify or apprehend the assailants, according to Al-Arabiya.

• Mohammad Sadiq al-Odaini, Center for Training and Protecting Journalist FreedomIn December 2005 Mohammad Sadiq al-Odaini, head of the independent Yemeni press freedom group the Center for Training and Protecting Journalist Freedom, was threatened at gunpoint by a man he recognized as a member of the security forces. A few days later the same man assaulted him along with two other attackers. Al-Odaini said he believed he was targeted because his organization’s annual report accused authorities of failing to investigate attacks on the press. Several weeks after the attack, Asad Ali Hezam al-Ayawi, a member of the country’s political security, was detained for a week. Al-Odaini said the case was dismissed due to lack of witnesses.

A free and vibrant press hinges on the ability of journalists to carry out their work without fear of reprisal or the threat of violent attack. Your government’s failure to solve these disturbing crimes, despite a pledge to do so, sends a message that Yemeni officials are unconcerned when journalists are brutalized and runs contrary to repeated public statements by Yemeni officials in support of press freedoms. We therefore urge you to take immediate action to ensure that those responsible for these attacks are located and brought justice and that your government makes public the results of its efforts to solve these crimes.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director