Yemeni editor abducted, severely beaten

New York, August 27, 2007­­­–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the abduction and brutal beating of a Yemeni editor by gunmen in Sana’a today. The local journalists CPJ spoke with suspected the gunmen are part of the government’s security forces.

A silver Toyota SUV carrying six gunmen wearing civilian clothing descended upon Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, former editor of the online newspaper Al-Shoura, while he was waiting for a taxi outside the offices of the weekly newspaper Al-Nedaa in central Sana’a at around 2 p.m. local time, eyewitnesses told CPJ. The perpetrators forcibly bundled him into the vehicle and sped away, the witnesses said. The witnesses said the license plates of the vehicle were covered with black material.

The gunmen blindfolded al-Khaiwani, tied his hands, and took him to the remote village of Mahalein in the Khawlan district, southeast of Sana’a, said Basheer al-Sayed, editorial secretary of AlNedaa, who spoke with al-Khawaini after the attack. According to al-Sayed, al-Khaiwani was badly beaten, with several blows to the face and chest. The men threatened him with a pair of shears. They asked him which hand he used for writing and when he told them the left one, they attempted to break his fingers, al-Sayed told CPJ. The gunmen confiscated al-Khaiwani’s passport, identification card, and cell phone, al-Sayed said.

The gunmen threatened to kill al-Khaiwani and his family if he writes another word that harms Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh or the country’s national unity, CPJ sources said. They specifically mentioned an article he wrote published by Al-Nedaa on August 16 titled “What’s Before the State: A Homeland Behind Bars,” al-Sayed told CPJ.  In the article, al-Khaiwani discussed the status of prisoners, their treatment, the conditions in the country’s jails, and the injustice they face.

CPJ sources suspected the gunmen belonged to the Yemeni security forces. Al-Sayed told CPJ that al-Khaiwani recognized one of his abductors today as one of the Yemeni security officers who raided his home in June. Interior Ministry investigative police officers took al-Khaiwani’s statement at the hospital, al-Sayed said.

“This outrageous attack on Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani represents a grave threat to Yemen’s already tenuous press freedom climate,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The Yemeni authorities must investigate this vicious assault and bring those responsible to justice. The failure to do so would indicate that the Yemeni government condones violent assaults on journalists.

Al-Khaiwani was treated at Al-Ahali Hospital in Sana’a and discharged later in the evening. He suffered extensive bruising on his face, chest, and hands, al-Sayed said.

Al-Khaiwani faces vague terrorism charges brought by a state security court on July 4. He was detained on June 20 by Yemeni security agents, who also raided the journalist’s Sana’a home. He was released on bail in late July. Security agents who placed him under arrest at the time severely beat him and dragged him to jail barefoot and in his underwear, according to his lawyer Khaled al-Anesi.

Al-Khaiwani has been a harsh critic of government nepotism and the government’s fight against rebels in Saada. In 2004, as editor of the then-print weekly Al-Shoura, al-Khaiwani was sentenced to a year in jail for incitement, insulting the president, publishing false news, and causing tribal and sectarian discrimination through his published criticisms of the government’s conduct in the fighting.

Since 2005, CPJ has identified at least six Yemeni journalists who have been the targets of assaults that were believed to be politically motivated. In all but one of the cases the perpetrators have not been identified by the authorities.