Yemen jails editor in ongoing media onslaught

 New York, May 12, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Yemeni government to end its campaign of intimidation, violence, and politicized prosecutions against journalists in the wake of yet another prison sentence for a journalist.

On May 2, the Press and Publications Court in Sana’a found Hussein Muhammad al-Leswas, editor of the news Web site Sana Press, guilty of “undermining national foundations, the revolution, and the republic” and sentenced him to one year in prison, according to local press reports and freelance journalist Samia al-Aghraby. The court also instituted an open-ended reporting ban against al-Leswas.

The charges stem from a series of articles al-Leswas wrote in early 2009 about corruption in the town of al-Baydah’s local administration, including one he published in February accusing the state-owned utilities company of mismanagement, al-Aghraby told CPJ. Al-Baydah is 130 miles (209 kilometers) southeast of Sana’a.

The Press and Publications Court in Sana’a earlier this week held the first hearing in al-Leswas’ appeal but adjourned without a decision. No date for the next hearing has been set.

Abdul Salam Mutbeq, editor of news Web site Al-Baydah News, was detained on Monday for holding a sign calling for al-Leswas’ release at an official event celebrating Yemeni unity in al-Baydah, according to news accounts. He was released the same day.

“We condemn the unjust conviction of Hussein al-Leswas and call on the press court to overturn his jail sentence and the ban on reporting,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “The fact that al-Leswas must appeal this ruling in the same press court which initially convicted him, a court that has been described by numerous Yemeni lawyers and journalists as unconstitutional, illustrates the extent to which press freedom in Yemen has deteriorated.”

In a separate case, on May 2, a state security court began the trial of four journalists working for the independent weekly Al-Nidaa. Editor Sami Ghaleb and reporters Abdel Aziz al-Majidi, Mayfa’ Abdel Rahman, and Fouad Mas’ad were charged with “publishing false reports liable to incite violence” after they wrote a series of critical articles in March and April 2009 about unrest in southern Yemen and the government’s response to it. Information Minister Hassan Ahmed al-Luzi argued that the articles posed a “threat to national unity and democracy,” according to local press reports. A verdict is expected on May 16.

Fuad Rashid, editor-in-chief of Mukalla Press, remains in prison since May 2009 despite an executive order issued on April 6 to release him and all individuals detained in connection with antigovernment protests in Hadramout province. He was covering the unrest.

A court in Lahij, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Aden in the south of the country, began on April 18 to hear the appeal of Anis Ahmed Mansur Hamida, an Aden-based reporter for the opposition daily Al-Ayyam. Hamida was handed a 14-month jail sentence in July on charges of “attacking national unity” and “separatism,” according to local press reports.

Salah al-Saqldi, editor-in-chief of the news Web site Gulf Aden, was detained on June 18, after he critically covered civil unrest in southern Yemen. His trial is due to start on May 24 on charges of “attacking national unity,” al-Aghraby told CPJ.

“These and scores of other spurious cases against journalists have turned Yemen into one of the worst countries in the region to be a journalist,” Abdel Dayem said. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Samia al-Aghraby’s title has been changed in the second paragraph. She is no longer the chairwoman of the Freedoms Committee of the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate.