Yemeni editor held incommunicado, critical newspaper sued

New York, May 8, 2009–Amid an increasing crackdown on the media in Yemen, the Committee to Protect Journalists called today for the Yemeni authorities to disclose the whereabouts of a journalist who has been held incommunicado since May 4 after he was arrested in southern Yemen. CPJ also called on the authorities to drop a series of lawsuits against an independent critical newspaper. 

Security forces arrested Fuad Rashid, editor-in-chief of Mukalla Press Web site, during a raid in Al-Mukalla in the province of Hadhramaut, Mukalla Press reported. The Web site has covered the recent clashes, which began on April 27 between security forces and disaffected residents who accuse the government of marginalization in the southern region of Yemen.

“We ask the authorities to reveal where and why they are holding Fuad Rashid without delay,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “The secrecy surrounding his detention is alarming. He should be charged or released immediately.

In addition to sending troops to stabilize the security situation in the south, the Yemeni government has cracked down on the media outlets that have critically covered the clashes. Since May 1, authorities have barred the sale of eight newspapers, among them the popular Aden-based independent daily Al-Ayyam.

Today the district attorney’s office in Aden sent a summons for Al-Ayyam’s editor-in-chief, Hisham Bashraheel, to appear at his office on May 10 in relation to a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Information, Bashraheel Bashraheel, general manager of Al-Ayyam and Hisham Bashraheel’s son, told CPJ.  Although specific charges are not mentioned in the order, the general manager said he believed that it is likely related to the newspaper’s coverage of the unrest in the south of the country.

On Wednesday, Minister of Information Hassan Ahmed al-Luzi defended the government’s actions against the newspapers, claiming their coverage was working against national unity and the country’s interests and that it had “spread hatred and enmity among the united people of Yemen.”

In another case, Hisham Bashraheel and his other son, Hani Bashraheel, have been ordered to appear before the district attorney in Sana’a on May 9 in relation to an attack on his home in February 2008. A group of armed men attacked the newspaper’s compound, which includes Bashraheel’s home, leading to a gunfight with the paper’s guards in which one of the assailants died.

“The timing of these lawsuits against Hisham Bashraheel and his family members strongly suggest that they might be politically motivated as retribution for Al-Ayyam‘s critical coverage,” said Abdel Dayem. 

Muhammad Al-Baqwali, the family’s lawyer, told CPJ that the district attorney’s order was made on behalf of relatives of the killed gunman; they are accusing Bashraheel and his son of inciting the guard to kill the attacker. Al-Baqwali said the district attorney violated the law because he did not obtain new evidence before issuing the summons.