Yemen should free two critical journalists

New York, January 14, 2011Yemeni security forces should release Fuad Rashid, editor-in-chief of the independent news website Mukalla Press, who was detained Monday in Hadramout province, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A second journalist, Abdulelah Hider Shaea, faces a potential trial verdict on Tuesday on terrorism charges that CPJ has concluded were trumped up in retaliation for his critical reporting. CPJ calls for the charges to be dismissed and Shaea to be freed.

In the Rashid case, relatives and colleagues said authorities seized the editor as he was covering street protests in the city of Al-Mukalla. He was taking photographs when he was detained along with a number of protesters, according to news reports.

Rashid was detained before, in May 2009, after his website covered clashes between security forces and disaffected residents. He was imprisoned on vague accusations of providing support for the autonomist Southern Movement before being released a year later without charge. Mukalla Press, which is blocked domestically, specializes in coverage of alleged corruption and the political marginalization of southern residents.   

In the case of Shaea, an expert on extremist groups including Al-Qaeda, the Specialized Criminal Court could issue its verdict next week, local journalists told CPJ. His defense team has resigned to protest trial irregularities and Shaea’s mistreatment in prison. A frequent commentator on Al-Jazeera, Shaea was known for his biting criticism of government anti-terror policies. The government accuses him of “planning to carry out terrorist acts” and “providing media support to Al-Qaeda leadership.

“We call on the Yemeni authorities to release Fuad Rashid immediately,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We also urge the Yemeni judiciary to demonstrate its independence by clearing Shaea of the baseless antistate charges he faces. Shaea’s trial has been rife with procedural irregularities and legal violations and ought to end in outright dismissal of all charges.”