More attacks, legal threats against Yemeni journalists

New York, May 7, 2013 – Yemeni journalists are facing continued physical and legal jeopardy, with one journalist receiving death threats and two others facing politicized defamation charges.

Fathi Bin Lazrak, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Aden al-Ghad, received a death threat sent via text message on Sunday, the newspaper reported. The sender threatened to “physically liquidate” him and burn down his newspaper if the paper continued its work, the report said. Aden Al-Ghad, an independent daily based in the southern city of Aden, is known for its critical reporting of the federal government based in the north.

Bin Lazrak told CPJ it is not clear who sent the message, or if the threat originated with the same assailants who fired on a newspaper distribution truck recently. The editor told CPJ he had filed a report with police, although police had yet not provided protection. The paper reported the threatening text message came from the local phone number 713953417.

“Authorities must not stand by while Fathi Bin Lazrak and Aden al-Ghad are being targeted with attacks and threats,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Police need to apprehend the assailants and halt these politically motivated attacks.”

In a separate case, a prosecutor in the Specialized Press and Publications Court has filed defamation charges against Mohammed al-Absi, a reporter, and Mohammed Ayesh, editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Oula, in connection with a November 2012 article in Al-Oula that accused the local humanitarian group Charitable Society for Social Welfare of mismanagement, news reports said. The article alleged that the society had not properly managed funds that were allocated to treat Yemenis injured in the uprising that ousted Ali Abdullah Saleh. The article was part of a series by al-Absi on the situation of those injured in the uprising.

The society, whose president is the current minister of justice, said its reputation was damaged by the article and asked for an apology and compensation of 100 million rials (about US$500,000), according to Al-Oula. The group did not immediately respond to CPJ’s requests for comment on the article’s assertions.

Al-Oula reported that the Specialized Press and Publications Court of First Instance convened on April 22 and April 29 to consider the case, and the next session will be held on May 13. CPJ has called on the Yemeni government to abolish this exceptional court for the media, which has effectively acted as a tool of the executive branch by selectively applying the Press and Publications Law and penal code to crack down on journalists.

“The Specialized Press and Publications Court is a forum for politicized prosecutions designed to silence government critics,” CPJ’s Mansour said. “This complaint should be withdrawn immediately.”

CPJ has documented a disturbing rise in violations against the Yemeni press in the past two months, as journalists faced physical and legal threats from all sides.

  • For more data and analysis on Yemen, visit CPJ’s Yemen page here.