Posted by Curt on 20 May, 2008 at 8:02 pm. 2 comments already!


The New York Times has a story today about Jane Novak’s crusade to save the life of a Yemeni journalist who dared to insult the leaders of his country. He once wrote Jane: (h/t Conservative Belle)

“Leaders in our region transform into gods,” he wrote. “They even come to believe in their fake holiness, which we aim to shatter, as they know they are humans just like us. Democracy and freedom are not granted by a leader of a regime. It is a worldwide human achievement of all the free people on earth.”

He now sits in a Yemeni prison accused of sedition and may be sentenced to death as soon as tomorrow. Here is Jane at her blog Armies of Liberation:

While the USS Cole bombers are all free in Yemen, my friend the Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani will be sentenced May 21 in a bogus trial and likely will get the death penalty or a long prison term. He is charged with insulting the president and demoralizing the military with an article about the Sa’ada war. He is an internationally renowned journalist and one of Yemen’s most prominent and outspoken democracy advocates.

This is the guy I made the online petition for in March 2005 and the bloggers all helped and he got amnesty. Since then he and I have become good friends. He loves democracy as much as I do. And he’s paid the price for it. Since he was released in 2005, Al-Khaiwani has been beaten, kidnapped, censored and imprisoned. His paper was cloned, his website blocked and his children threatened.

Al-Khaiwani was badly beaten during his arrest in June 2007. His daughter, six year old Ebba, was slapped by police so hard that she fell unconscious. After Al-Khaiwani’s arrest and release on bail, he was kidnapped and badly beaten again. The US State Department issued a statement from DC noting his abduction pointed to, “disturbing trend of intimidation and harassment of Yemen’s journalist community.”

Al-Khaiwani was charged on July 4 with aiding the rebel movement by publishing war news. As you may know, the war in Sa’ada has been called a state sponsored genocide with strong parallels to the Sudan. I published photos of the damage in Sa’ada caused by indiscriminate (or deliberate) government bombing. I interviewed rebel spokesman Yahya al-Houthi, and posted it. (This website is now banned in Yemen.) By the standard of “demoralizing the military”, I’d also be subject to the death penalty if I was in Yemen. So would half of the bloggers here in the US.

As al-Khawiani’s sentencing approaches on May 21, fear is growing in Yemen and internationally that a guilty verdict in his case will open the door for a brutal crackdown on Yemen’s already endangered journalistic community.

The New York Times describes the role Mr. Khaiwani courageously played in getting news out of a wartorn area where journalists were not allowed:

By taking up Mr. Khaiwani’s cause, Ms. Novak was wading into one of the most obscure and complex conflicts in the Arab world. The Houthi rebellion began in 2004 when rebels began fighting with government soldiers in Saada Province, northwest of the capital near the border with Saudi Arabia. The government accuses Iran of aiding the rebels, a charge Iran denies. Thousands of people have died in the fighting.

For Ms. Novak, the basic issue was freedom of speech. The Yemeni government has banned journalists from traveling to Saada and has tried to suppress coverage of the conflict.

Mr. Khaiwani, almost alone among Yemeni journalists, managed to get vivid photographs and accounts of the bloodshed in Saada, which he published on his Web site, now defunct. His reports have helped spread a sense of outrage at the government’s raids, which appear to have extended the fighting by provoking Saada residents who did not initially side with the Houthi rebels.

“I have a very deep relationship with people in Saada,” Mr. Khaiwani said during the interview in January. “Many citizens in Saada wanted to show a real image of what is happening in the war there.”

The Yemeni government considers the Houthis terrorists and accuse Mr. Khaiwani of abetting their cause. He is being tried in Yemen’s State Security Court, which is used for terrorism cases.

She has started a petition and letter writing campaign to save his life. Please go here and sign it. Mr. Khaiwani and Jane need all the help they can get.

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