Woman journalist sentenced to three months in prison and banned from working

Published on 18 January 2010

Reporters Without Borders condemns the three-month jail sentence which a Sanaa special court for press matters passed on Anissa Mohammed Ali Othman on 16 January for “insulting the president” in two articles for the weekly Al-Wassat in July 2007. The court also banned her from working as a journalist for a year and fined her editor, Jamal Amer 10,000 rials (34 euros).

“This sentence, worthy of a bygone era, matches the pattern of the Yemeni government’s press freedom violations of the past nine months,” Reporters Without Borders said. “When the international community hold its conference on Yemen in London next week, it must condemn these repeated violations even if they are being committed in the name of a legitimate fight against terrorism.”

Published in issues 155 and 156 of Al-Wassat, the articles were written in solidarity with Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, a journalist who was then in prison.

“I was not told that the trial was going to take place on Saturday,” Othman told Reporters Without Borders. “Neither my lawyer nor I were in court. The court appointed a lawyer for me. And what’s more, I cannot even appeal. The president can do anything he wants in Yemen, but those who want to express an opinion and criticise what goes on cannot. The support that the western countries are giving this government is unacceptable.”

Khaiwani said the trial was illegal. “According to the Yemeni constitution, everyone should be tried where they live,” he said. “Anissa Othman lives in Taez [a city to the south of Sanaa] so she should not have been tried in Sanaa. Furthermore, there is no proportionality between the charge and the sentence. It was a political trial.”

Othman’s jail sentence was issued just 12 days before an international conference on Yemen that is to be held in London on 28 January. Reporters Without Borders wrote to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on 12 January asking him to ensure that human rights and media freedom are on the conference agenda.

The Yemeni authorities have been waging an offensive against the country’s independent media since last May.