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Special press court tries its first case (Local).

SANA'A, July 12 -- Amid international cries for freedom of expression and rising concern for Yemen's press, the government's special "press court" held its first hearing for a journalist on Saturday.

The defendant is Sami Ghalib, editor-in-chief of Al-Nida newspaper. A special press prosecution has been investigating Ghalib for more than two years.

The court is to look into about 150 press-related cases forwarded by courts of first instance.

Journalists, lawyers and human right activists, however, have described the court as illegal, and as a government attempt to control the independent press.

The government decided to set up the special court in May to deal exclusively with press-related offenses following the media coverage of the unrest in the south of Yemen.

In December 2006, the former deputy Minister of Endowments Hassan Al-Ahdal requested the prosecutor investigate Ghalib, after his newspaper published a story in which private travel agencies accused the Hajj and Umrah sectors at the ministry of corruption.

"At the hearing, the judge started with the first legal procedures, which is the reading of the indictment," said Ghalib. "We demanded the charges against us to be clarified."

The prosecution charged Ghalib with "insult and humiliation." The judge asked prosecutors to reply to Ghalib's lawyers' demand to clarify the charges in writing by the next hearing on July 18.

Two weeks before the hearing, however, Ghalib was supportive of the principle behind the creation of the court, if not the timing.

"If the timing of the establishment of the special press court was at any other time than that in which newspapers were targeted by the government, the court would be welcomed by journalists," said Sami Ghalib, editor-in-chief of Al-Nida newspaper.

"I agree with the establishment of the court," said Ghalib, explaining how journalists used to be tried like criminals before regular courts, not as journalists.

At the beginning of June, the Ministry of Justice suggested assigning judges in the Aden, Taiz and Mukala governorates to deal with press-related offenses. Judge Mansour Shai, a Sana'a judge with degrees in Sharia and law, was appointed head the first court in Sana'a.

In response, twenty-one academic researchers from the United States, Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy sent an appeal to the Yemeni government to support free press, and express their concern about the recent crackdown on the Yemeni press.

The appeal was addressed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and sent to Yemeni embassies in Washington and Rome. It asked for the end of restrictions on the press and support for the free circulation of ideas, opinions, and information.

Researchers expressed their fear that the restrictions would harm not only the Yemeni press but also Yemen's international reputation. "While reports, articles and books used to testify to the comparatively free press of the Republic of Yemen," the appeal said, "We fear Yemen is losing this distinction among the countries of the Arabian Peninsula."

During May 2009, the researchers noticed a "sharp increase and intensification of confiscation of newspapers, restriction of access to printing facilities and distribution systems, lawsuits against publishers, detention of journalists, blocking of web sites, and use of force against press offices," the appeal noted.

They referred to the Yemeni independent press as "an essential source for historical, political, social and economic understanding of the country."

Yemeni Journalists Syndicate also strongly condemned the recent government actions against the press in an announcement issued on Saturday.

The syndicate condemned measures by the Political Security Organization (PSO) against Al-Watani, an independent newspaper distributor in Aden. It asked the PSO to release a detained driver of a distribution vehicle, and to stop seizing newspapers in Aden.

The syndicate said members have the right to sue the PSO and threatened that the organization will, "carry the full responsibility for the losses and damages resulting from the prevention of the newspaper circulation in the Aden."

Tawakkol Karman, the head of Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), agreed.

"The special press court is against all standards of establishing courts in the world," she said "It is targeting journalists."

WJWC has organized more than eight demonstrations in front of the cabinet offices in Sana'a, demanding a stop to what they call civil rights violations against journalists, and that the special press court is closed.

She said the new court was similar to the government's special court for terrorism. Meaning, the government is dealing with journalism like terrorism.

"The charges are even the same: 'threatening the country's security and stability.'"...

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Jul 29, 2009
Words:758
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