(06/20/01) -- Human Rights Watch today condemned the Yemeni government's announced intention to close down the weekly newspaper Al-Shura. Human Rights Watch also expressed grave concern that the related flogging sentence against journalist Abd al-Jabbar Saad, convicted on defamation charges, may be implemented in the near future.
On June 11, 2001 the Press and Publications branch of the Prosecutor-General's office notified Al-Shura that it would proceed to implement a 1997 judgment passed against the newpaper's editor, Abdallah Saad, who died in 1999, and his journalist-brother, Abd al-Jabbar Saad. A court had convicted the paper, published by the opposition party Union of Popular Forces, on defamation charges in May 1997. The court ordered the paper closed down for six months and the journalists barred from writing for a year.
Additionally, the court sentenced the journalists to eighty lashes each for defaming Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, a leader of Al-Islah, the country's leading Islamist party. The court also awarded al-Zindani YR 100.000 (US$ 625) in damages, maintaining that the defendants were unable to prove the published allegations of adultery against al-Zindani; such unproven allegations carry a sentence of eighty lashes under the Penal Code. After a process of appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in May 2000.
Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments, such as floggings, are a form of torture or ill-treatment and are banned under international law. In 1992 the human rights committee, the authoritative United Nations body for interpreting the international covenant on civil and political rights, specifically stated that such a prohibition "must extend to corporal punishment, including excessive chastisement as a punishment?"
"We are very disturbed at the possibility that in Yemen journalists may be flogged for their writings," said Megally "We are seeking urgent assurances that this will not happen."
In September 1999, Al-Shura was closed by the Ministry of Information for allegedly failing to notify the ministry of a change in the editorial board. This and previous closure orders in February 1999 and May 1998 embroiled the paper in litigation with the Ministry of Information until August 2000, when it resumed publication.
Press freedom in Yemen has deteriorated since the end of the civil war in 1994. Ten papers were brought to court during 2000; some of them periodically suspended and the journalists fined. Yemen Times journalist Hasan al-Zaidi remains detained in an undisclosed location after the Political Security Office, an agency directly reporting to the president, arrested him on June 10, 2001. In late May, Al-Shumu', a weekly, was banned for one month and chief editor Saif al-Hadheri sentenced to six months imprisonment and the payment of damages after the Sanaa Appeals Court had convicted him of defaming the former Minister of Education by accusing him of embezzlement and corruption.
Under the regulations for the 1990 Press Law, issued in 1993 and 1998, newspapers have to apply to the Ministry of Information for annual renewal of their license. According to the Ministry, in mid-2000 only about half of Yemen's two hundred publications had been granted a license.