Yemen’s Reign of Terror: Tortured Editor Al Maqaleh Comes to Bogus Trial
Four months of uncertainty surrounding the fate of kidnapped editor, Mohammed al Maqaleh, came to an end this week when he was brought to trial. The journalist’s court date was marred by numerous irregularities including the exclusion of his court appointed lawyer. Mr. al Maqaleh disclosed details of his torture by Yemeni security forces in an interview with a union representative. Yemen is one of the world’s worst violators of press freedom and notorious for prisoner torture.
Kidnapped in Broad Daylight
Mr. Al Maqaleh was kidnapped from a Sana’a street September 17, 2009 by plain clothes police. Yemeni authorities repeatedly denied he was in custody as his family and activists held weekly demonstrations.
A member of the Yemeni Socialist Party’s Central Committee, al Maqaleh also edits the party’s website, Al Eshteraki. On September 16, al Maqaleh reported on a military air strike that killed 87 internally displaced war refugees in Sa’ada province. Graphic photos accompanied the article. The UN urged an inquiry into the civilian deaths, an all too regular occurrence in the Sa’ada War.
Torture and Mock Executions
Marwan Damaj, Secretary General of the Yemeni Journalists Union, saw Mr. al Maqaleh last week, his only visitor to date.
“He was very thin and looked very ill. He told me that he had been tortured and went on a food strike for 16 days during his detention. He said that he had been beaten, starved as they gave him one terrible meal every three days, and did not allow him a change of clothes. He had been wearing the same blood stained clothes since his abduction,” Dammaj told the Yemen Times. “He said that they threatened twice to execute him and had been living under the gun point for 20 days consecutively during his four months detention.”
Damaj, speaking on behalf of the union and al Maqaleh’s family, urged Yemeni authorities to allow al Maqaleh to be hospitalized. Such requests are normally denied to political prisoners.
The UN found that torture in Yemeni jails is widespread. Another political prisoner was killed following three days of torture an Aden jail, activists allege. Eyewitnesses in adjacent cells said Zaid Abdulkareem Tamah was hung from the ceiling upside down for 12 hours, burnt with cigar butts and shocked with electricity. On January 30, he was found dead on the floor in a pool of blood by visitors.
Trial Session Sabotaged
Mr. Al Maqaleh was charged Sunday with sympathizing with the northern Houthi rebels and instigating discord. Yemen frequently targets activists, political opponents and journalists through the politicized courts.
In this case, the judge may also be personally prejudiced. A year earlier, he found al Maqaleh in contempt of court for laughing in court during the trial of another journalist. The judge refused to authorize al Maqaleh’s release when the 20 day term was completed and he was held for months.
The court proceeding was rife with violations of judicial principles. Hael Sallam, al Maqaleh’s lawyer, wasn’t informed of the charges or given a copy of his file. Al Maqalih’s February 7th court session, scheduled for 10 am, was held two hours early. His family, lawyer and the journalists union weren’t notified of the change and didn’t attend.
Pattern of escalating attacks
Other imprisoned journalists at high risk of torture include Salah Alsagalde, Fuad Rashid, and Ahmed Alzubairi.
In other recent violations, News Yemen website was hacked by an IP tracing back to the Ministry of Information. Female journalist Anisa Mohammed Ali Osman was sentenced to three months and banned from writing for year. The editor of al Sahwa net, Mohammed Alwani, received death threats. Political Security authorities raided the house of Dhaif Alsoolani, the editor of the Adengulf.net and arrested his younger brother and two of his relatives.
The 68 year oid owner and editor of the long established al Ayyam, Hisham Bashraheel, was taken in early January along with his two sons, Mohammed and Hani. Amnesty International warned of their possible torture or ill-treatment several times since. Rights groups have ralso aised concerns about myopic pursuit of western counter-terror objectives.
“The fear is that international demands for a crackdown on suspected supporters of al-Qa’ida will be interpreted by the government as a green light to crush all opposition with no consideration for human rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.