In Yemen, outspoken editor pardoned and released

New York, September 25, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from prison today of Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani, an outspoken Yemeni editor who had been held since June on what were widely seen as retaliatory antistate charges. Al-Khaiwani, whose case was the focus of an international advocacy effort, told CPJ that he walked out of a Sana’a prison after being granted a presidential pardon.

‎”We’re delighted Abdel Karim al-Khaiwani is out of jail, but we remained troubled by Yemen’s overall press freedom record,” said CPJ‎ Excutive Director Joel Simon. ‎”While this pardon is welcome, it is no substitute for the systematic reform necessary for Yemeni journalists to work freely.”

Al-Khaiwani is editor of the news Web site Al-Shoura, which is affiliated with the Popular Forces Union Party. In July 2007, Yemeni authorities raided al-Khaiwani’s home and arrested him on vague terrorism charges that carried a possible death penalty.

In June 2008, al-Khaiwani and 14 others were found guilty of conspiring with Abdel Malik al-Hawthi, a rebel leader whose family has fought against government forces in northwestern Yemen since 2004. Al-Khaiwani was sentenced to six years in prison.

The evidence against al-Khaiwani included only journalistic material, including photographs of rebel forces, notes related to an interview with a rebel leader, and news articles such as an al-Khaiwani piece that criticized President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the journalist’s lawyer told CPJ in an earlier interview.

Among journalists and human rights officials, the case against al-Khaiwani was seen as retaliation for his criticism of the government’s fight against the rebels and his writing about government nepotism. CPJ and other organizations campaigned intensively for his release.

Al-Khaiwani thanked CPJ today for its “vital role in standing with me.” His full comments are posted on the CPJ Blog.

Authorities had harassed al-Khaiwani in the past. In 2004, while he was the editor of 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 for his criticisms of the ‎government’s conduct in rebel conflict.
In August 2007, after he was again charged, gunmen abducted al-Khaiwani while he was trying to get a taxi in a Sana’a street. The assailants beat him and threatened to kill him and his family if he wrote anything perceived to be against the president or national unity.