Yemeni court gives five journalists suspended jail terms

New York, May 25, 2010—The Sana’a appeal court in Yemen should overturn suspended jail sentences given to an editor and four reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The sentences come just a few days after local media reported that President Ali Abdullah Saleh pardoned all journalists being tried or convicted of press offenses to mark the 20th anniversary of Yemen’s unification.

On Monday, the Press and Publication Court in Sana’a sentenced Editor Sami Ghaleb, and reporters Abdel Aziz al-Majidi, Fouad Mas’ad, and Shafee’ al-Abd of independent weekly Al-Nidaa to a three-month suspended jail sentence for “publishing false reports liable to incite violence,” according to local news reports. Prominent writer and regular contributor to Al-Nidaa Mayfa’ Abdel Rahman al-Qiyadi was given the same sentence. Neither the defendants nor their lawyers were present at the verdict because the court did not inform them of the hearing date, Ghaleb told CPJ. He said they would all appeal the sentences.

“We’re confused by this conviction because it would appear that these journalists are covered by President Saleh’s pardon,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s Executive Director. “We hope and expect that these sentences will be nullified.”

The trial for the five journalists began in November 2009 after Minister of Information Hassan al-Lawzi ordered an investigation of six issues of Al-Nidaa that had been published in March and April 2009. The articles and editorials under investigation focused on civil unrest in the southern part of Yemen, Ghaleb told CPJ.

Two journalists have been released from jail since Saleh’s declaration of amnesty. Muhammad al-Leswas was released today, according to news Web site Al-Sahwa, and Hani Bashraheel, the managing editor of Al-Ayaam, was freed on May 10, before the amnesty. The two remaining journalists in jail, Fuad Rashid and Salah al-Saqldi, went on hunger strike today at Sana’a Central Prison to protest their continued imprisonment.