Journalists under constant attack; four journalists sentenced to death after grossly unfair trial

Expression

On 11th April 2020, the Specialised Criminal Court in Sana'a sentenced four journalists (Akram Al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri) to death and six others to jail terms on charges of "publishing and writing news, statements, false and malicious rumours and propaganda with the intent to weaken the defence of the homeland, weaken the morale of the Yemeni people, sabotage public security, spread terror among people and harm the country's interest". The original verdict was only communicated in writing to defence lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra on 9th August 2020, four months after the court hearing.

Later that month, the same court ordered that the other six imprisoned journalists be released and placed under police surveillance. Since then, only one, Salah Mohammed Al-Qaedi, has been released while Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom, Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi, Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Shihab, Essam Amin Balgheeth and Hassan Abdullah Annab remain in prison.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights criticised the court’s lack of impartiality as evidenced by the false and misleading accusations that were admitted as evidence throughout the trial, including the court’s decision to grant permission to the Ministry of Information and the Syndicate of Journalists to ‘present before the competent court evidence against those sentenced for violating the media’s code of honour and the press law.’ Amnesty International and the Samir Kassir Foundation released a solidarity video in support of the four Yemeni journalists who have been sentenced to death and also labelled the trial as ‘grossly unfair.’

In a press release which focused on the alarming number of human rights violations committed against journalists in Yemen, the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, stated that ‘journalists are under attack from all quarters.’ Commenting on the case of the 10 journalists, Bachelet noted that during their five-year detention, the four journalists who have been sentenced to death were denied family visits, access to their lawyer and health care. They have also been subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment throughout their detention.

Bachelet said in her statement:

"It is with great sadness we have seen the situation in Yemen slide from bad to worse, to the point now where it is considered the world's largest humanitarian crisis… Those responsible for reporting on the atrocities committed during the armed conflict and the accompanying pain and suffering endured by civilians are themselves being targeted… Journalists are under attack from all quarters. They are killed, beaten and disappeared; they are harassed and threatened; and they are jailed and sentenced to death for merely trying to shine a light on the brutality of this crisis."

In separate developments, on 22nd July 2020, security forces in Marib Governorate released photojournalist Radwan Al-Hashedi, after he was arrested on 8th July 2020 upon arrival at Sayyun Airport in the Hadramout Governorate by security forces who transferred him to the Political Security Prison in Marib Governorate. Al-Hashedi was returning to his home country, having spent two years in Egypt after leaving the city of Taiz, where he worked to document the suffering of the people of Taiz by publishing photographs and participating in various artistic events as a member of the organisation, Taiz – Colour of Life, which, according to its founders, is “an initiative that was launched to send the colours of life from Taiz to radiate a source for all that is beautiful.”

On 9th July 2020, defence lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra received the verdict in another case known as the Nasr Al-Salami case, which involves 36 people who were tried for expressing their opinions on issues of public interest and for their criticism of the de facto Houthi government. In its verdict, the Specialised Court of First Instance (the State Security Court) sentenced 30 people to death while six were acquitted.