New Yemeni press court sentences, bans journalists
November 2, 2009 4:44 PM ET
New York, November 2, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to end the intensifying judicial and media campaign to silence critical journalists and eradicate press freedom.
On Saturday, the newly established
Press and Publications Court
in Sana’a sentenced Munir Mawari, a Washington-based Yemeni journalist and
contributor to the independent weekly Al-Masdar, to two years in prison on
charges of defaming the president, journalists told CPJ. The court also barred
him for life from practicing journalism in Yemen. The court handed a suspended
one-year jail term to Samir Jubran, editor of Al-Masdar, on the same
charge and banned him from writing and running his newspaper for one year.
The case stems from a November
25, 2008, opinion piece in which Mawari called Saleh’s leadership style a kind
of “weapon of mass destruction.”
Mawari, who was tried absentia, told CPJ that he
discussed the “devastating impact” of a president “exercising absolute power
and who refuses to be held accountable and prefers to see journalists taken to
court instead of those involved in corruption.” He called the verdict a “message
aimed at terrorizing journalists and preventing them from writing about the
Al-Masdar said it will appeal the
verdict. Yemeni journalists have questioned the legitimacy of the press court,
which was established in May, saying the constitution makes no allowance for
the creation of exceptional courts. They also said the professional bans handed
down by the court on Saturday are not grounded in Yemeni law.
“This shameful verdict
should be repealed and our colleagues’ right to do their jobs restored,” said
CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed
Abdel Dayem. “The time has come for President Saleh to bring
to an end the rising attacks on press freedom and incitement against critical
Media outlets and
journalists in Yemen
have faced mounting government attacks throughout 2009 after clashes broke out
between the military and armed protesters in southern parts of the country in
late April. Southerners accuse the government of marginalizing them.
Authorities also instituted extensive censorship and arrested journalists who
insisted on covering the unrest or who were overtly critical of the government.
A smear campaign against
Al-Jazeera journalists in Yemen
also reflects deterioration in press freedom. The ruling party’s newspaper, Al-Mithaak,
last week compared Ahmad al-Shalafi, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Sana’a, to “Hitler’s
minister of propaganda.”