2006 Awards – Jamal Amer – Yemen

International Press Freedom Awards

Jamal Amer
Courageous Yemeni editor undaunted by threats and harassment

Video featuring this awardee
in QuickTime format

Jamal Amer is the courageous editor of one of Yemen’s most independent weeklies, Al-Wasat, whose reporting on corruption, religious militancy, and sensitive political issues has triggered a number of frightening threats and attacks.

In August 2005, he was seized by four men believed to be security agents and held for six hours. The assailants beat him, accused him of being paid by the U.S. and Kuwaiti governments, and warned him about defaming “officials.” The men drove a blindfolded Amer to the top of a mountain, where they threatened to kill him. His abduction shocked Yemeni journalists, who took it as an explicit warning against the sort of enterprising journalism that had been a mark of Al-Wasat. It was the only Yemeni newspaper to interview a rebel cleric who had waged a long insurgency, and it regularly publishes reports by human rights and international organizations critical of the government. Just days before Amer’s kidnapping, the paper ran a daring story alleging that several government officials were exploiting state scholarships to send their own children to study abroad.

Before establishing Al-Wasat as an independent watchdog in 2004, Amer worked as a journalist for the opposition weekly Al-Wahdawi, where his reporting drew frequent legal attacks from authorities. He has been convicted of harming the public interest, offending King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and damaging relations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A court once banned Amer from working as a journalist altogether.

The harassment has continued this year. Pro-government newspapers have accused Amer of being an agent of the West, and he and his family have been subjected to government surveillance.

Read Jamal Amer’s acceptance speech.

Read a CPJ report on Yemen’s press freedom situation:

Read about Amer in the English-language Yemen Times:

Al-Wasat article alleging corrupt practices among government officials

Arabic version: http://www.alwasat-ye.net/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1034

Acceptance speech

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am proud to be among you tonight and grateful to CPJ for its strong support for press freedom and independent journalism. There has never been a time when your support has been more needed.

In the Arab world, where I come from, rulers relinquish power only when there is a military coup or when they die. They consider a free and independent press to be their top enemy. The list of journalists killed or savagely attacked because of their work is getting longer and longer. Sadly, in my country, Yemen, assaults against journalists have become commonplace while journalists are constantly terrorized and prevented from doing their jobs by corrupt sheikhs, politicians, and military officials. In Yemen and the Arab world at large none of those responsible for attacking or killing journalists has been brought to justice. This ongoing impunity is an encouragement for the perpetrators to attack or kill more journalists.

The task of beleaguered Arab journalists and their supporters becomes more difficult whenever Western countries, considered as advocates of press freedom, violate this basic right themselves. My colleagues and I were troubled and angered by the injustice inflicted on Taysir Allouni, former Al-Jazeera correspondent in Afghanistan who is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence in Spain, his colleague Sami al-Haj, detained without charge or trial in Gunatanamo since 2002, and the many Iraqi journalists who have been detained without charge by the U.S. military occupying Iraq.

Such violations are likely to encourage Arab governments to commit more press freedom abuses.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to congratulate CPJ on its success in drawing the world’s attention to the pain inflicted on the press in Yemen and the Arab world. My thanks also go to all the guests and participants gathered here tonight for their support for press freedom.