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Cartoon Update: Newsweek Exclusive Interview of Yemeni Editor

by Norwegian Chef Sat Mar 11th, 2006 at 12:37:18 PM EST

Newsweek has just published an exclusive interview with Mohammed al-Asaadi, the Yemeni Editor of the Yemen Observer who is now imprisoned and facing prosecution calls for the death penalty.  

Here are a few excerpts (see also yesterday's diary):

Promoted by Colman

Of Course I'm Afraid'

In an interview from his jail cell, a Yemeni editor imprisoned over the Prophet Muhammad cartoons discusses press freedom, religion and calls for his execution.

Mohammad al-Sharabi for Newsweek

Yemen Observer editor Mohammed al-Asaadi in prison on Feb. 18


By Rod Nordland


Updated: 11:16 p.m. ET Feb. 18, 2006


NEWSWEEK: Is this your first time in jail?

Mohammed al-Asaadi: It's the first time ever I've been a prisoner, or even in front of a judge.

How are the accommodations?

I'm in a temporary prison, awaiting a hearing, so it's not so bad.  It's a basement, and we have to buy everything we need, even bottled water.  There are 15 of us sharing one big room and one toilet, but the others aren't common criminals.  A couple are journalists, because it's the prison of the prosecutor for press and publications.

You mean to say the government has a prosecutor dedicated to the press, and that prosecutor has a dedicated jail?

That is one of the characteristics of the Yemeni government, putting journalists in jail to stop us from telling the truth to the public.


Your newspaper has been closely identified with the government, so is this the result of some sort of factional dispute within it?

The Yemen Observer has an independent line, and while it's true that our CEO is close to the government, when  he hired me he granted me complete editorial independence.  He had no say over what I published.

Do you regret now the decision to run the cartoons, however censored, given the climate?  There are plenty of religious fanatics in Yemen, even if they're a minority.

We had a meeting to discuss this before we published them, so it wasn't an accident.  And we felt that these cartoons had already been shown on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya [satellite TV] and millions of Muslims had seen them.  And I personally believe these cartoons should be published.  If we make it unlawful to look at them, we give them an importance they don't deserve, as if there's something holy or special about them. We should be able to discuss them openly, which is what we did.


Some hard-line preachers at Friday prayers called for your execution; some even suggested death by beheading or immolation.  Aren't you afraid for your future, in or out of jail?

Of course I'm afraid. I'll have to take precautions when I go to and from my office and travel around in the future. But  Yemenis as a whole are very moderate, and I know I can persuade any reasonable person that I did nothing wrong.  And I believe in God. What I did was in defense of the Prophet, and I don't think God will let me down for doing that.

Click here for the full Interview.

Here is a recent Editorial from the Yemen Observer

Will the Yemen Observer's License Return?!

For the past eight years the Yemen Observer has worked hard to provide accurate, balanced and informative news about all aspects of Yemen. It prides itself on providing up-to-date news and analysis in English, acting as a vital tool for non-Arabic speakers to learn more about the country.

Yet the continued suspension of the newspaper's license - for unfounded allegations connected to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) - is starving it of the crucial funds it needs to operate.

The actions were and still are meant to damage the good reputation of the newspaper, which has only ever acted with the very best interests of the country and its readers at its heart.

The Observer journalists continue to write and produce news on this website. We will, of course, resume printing the newspaper immediately when the draconian restrictions are lifted. However, if the Government do not change their mind, the newspaper faces a bleak future.

The newspaper's forced closure has come just as the Government tries to boost tourist numbers and international investment in the country. If the Observer remains closed, a valuable international window onto Yemen will be lost, and a worrying message about press freedom in this country will be sent to the rest of the world. Press freedom is in real danger in this vital year.

The Yemen Observer has launched a massive campaign with local authorities including Parliament, leading religious scholars and senior judicial consultants at the Supreme Court of Yemen. All of them have shown understanding and sympathy. They admitted they were misinformed by the official media, which claimed that the Observer ran the abusive cartoons, but gave no further explanation in what context.

The editorial board of the Yemen Observer and all its workers at all levels would like to extend their deepest gratitude to readers and international organizations that have been a great support for all of us during this difficult time.

The situation cannot be allowed to continue.

On Wednesday March 8 the trial of the Editor-in-Chief Mohammed Al-Asadi resumes. We hope that both the Court and the Government will take the sensible and correct route, and allow Mr. Al-Asadi to run the newspaper freely once again.

Until then, we will be continuing all our usual news coverage online at this website:  www.yobserver.com. We value our readers greatly. At this difficult time for the newspaper, we appreciate your support all the more. Thank you, and please keep visiting the site.

Meanwhile in India, Reporters without Borders announced the release of an Indian Journlaist.

Editor of an Indian magazine released

Reporters Without Borders notes the release on bail, on 2 March 2006, of Alok Tomar, editor of the Hindi-language magazine Shabdarth. He had to pay 50,000 rupees (943 euros) and provide a personal surety. He was arrested on 23 February after publishing one of the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

You can help Mr Al-Asadi by joining or contributing to Amnesty International or by joining or contributing to Reporters without Borders.  Both websites should have more specific details and actions in the next few days.

I am following the other trials in Middle East and Southeast Asia and will update as news merits.

Amnesty International also has a very important article on detainees in Iraq

Iraq: Thousands of detainees denied their basic rights

Related documents

Iraq: Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq


Press release, 03/06/2006

Thousands of detainees being held by the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) in Iraq are trapped in a system of arbitrary detention that denies them their basic rights, Amnesty International said in a report published today. At the same time, there is increasing evidence of torture of detainees by the Iraqi security forces that the MNF underpins.

"Three years after it toppled Saddam Hussain, the US-led alliance has failed to put in place measures which respect the basic rights of detainees under its control and to safeguard them from possible torture or other abuses. The system of detention that has been established is arbitrary and a recipe for possible abuse," said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Some detainees have now been held without charge or trial by the MNF for more than two years without being given an adequate opportunity to challenge the reasons for their imprisonment. They face the prospect of being held for years more on the basis of information to which they do not have access. The systems the US and UK use to review detainees' cases fail to meet international standards, including the requirement for court oversight. Detainees are also routinely denied access to lawyers and their families.

The report Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq focuses on human rights violations for which the MNF is directly responsible but points also to mounting evidence of torture by Iraqi security forces operating alongside the MNF, including the so-called Wolf Brigade that reports to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. There have also been cases in which detainees have died in the custody of Iraqi forces. Amnesty International is concerned that these cases and torture allegations have not been properly investigated and those responsible held to account. US and UK investigations into abuses by their forces have also generally focused on junior military personnel and sentences have failed to reflect the gravity of the offences.

It is imperative that both the MNF and the Iraqi authorities take urgent steps to reassert the importance of fundamental human rights if there is to be any hope of halting Iraq's slide towards ever increasing violence and sectarianism. In particular, they must ensure that detainees' rights are respected in full, that all allegations of torture or other abuses are thoroughly and promptly investigated, and that those responsible for ordering or carrying out abuses, however senior, are brought to justice.

"International human rights law applicable in Iraq as well as domestic Iraqi legislation contain safeguards to protect the fundamental rights of people in detention - including the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment. It is high time for all parties to the conflict to start observing the laws to which they have been and remain legally bound," said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.

For a copy of the report, Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq, please see:


Crossposted from Daily Kos

cannot be allowed to continue?

Why not?

I seem to remember a lot of commenters over at Booman Tribune being really offended. When SusanHu included one single of the Danish cartoons in her front-page article?

And she is someone I deeply respect.

Care to tell me why SusanHu´s article was offensive and why we should now defend some Yemeni journalists rights to publish the exact same cartoons?

We can´t do it.

If publishing the cartoons by Western journalists and bloggers were wrong, then it seems to be wrong for Muslim journalists too. Not to mention the fact that they are Muslims and living in Muslim countries too.
So they should even more "sensible" to the sensivities of the Muslim population....

Remember that all of the Danish cartoonists are in hiding right now? After receiving death threats?

If we didn´t defend their rights then how can we defend the rights of a Muslim "Editor of the Yemen Observer" now?

Just asking?

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Sat Mar 11th, 2006 at 05:49:11 PM EST
Susan's article was a call to support freedom of speech and she meant no offense. When offense was taken, her apology was not accepted by a few and something of a blogswarm occurred against her. Her past record of compassion,inclusiveness and diplomacy were ignored.

The day may arrive when Reporters Without Borders will be needed to protect journalists within the US.

To thine ownself be true. W.S. CANADA

by sybil on Sat Mar 11th, 2006 at 08:53:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Count me among the Boo-tribbers who came down on the free speech side of the argument over there. I don't like going out of my way to offend people, so I personally would not have wanted to publish such cartoons. But to receive death threats over it?

I defend the Danes' right to publish and the Yemeni's right to publish. And SusanHu's, for that matter.

One of the comments I made about it then was, that it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

Because of the outrage that I'm guessing 99.9% of us posting on BooTrib feel about the invasion of Iraq, it's easy for that to get translated into, any criticism of Muslims or Islam is aiding the "enemy" - meaning in this case, the Bush Administration. But if we can't apply the same critical standards to the Muslim world that we do to the West, then I think that's taking cultural relativism to a place where it should not go. Meaning, don't ask me to excuse religious extremists who are attempting to impose their own values on a secular society, like Denmark (particularly the "women as second-class citizens" part. Sorry, I take that personally).

I realize that "it's never about what it's about," that we have a legacy of imperialism and colonialism to blame for much of the present situation in the Middle East, that it's all too easy for discussions about "western values" to serve as a cover for immigrant-bashing, that many immigrants have faced a lack of acceptance and a ton of prejudice. But it's a pity that we're having riots instead of conversations.

"History is ruthless, and will never flatter anyone." Zhou Enlai

by OtherLisa (redandexpert at yahoo.com) on Sat Mar 11th, 2006 at 09:05:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Yemen Observer has published another editorial on this subject by a leading Yemeni academic, Dr Abdullah Al-Faqih.  The Prophet Mohammad himself was supposedly very taken with Yemen and called the country a source of great wisdom.  It is interesting to see how the cartoon situation is playing out here through this trial.  The Yemen Observer and the Editor, Mohammed Al-Asadi, seems to have some very strong public support here, which is good to see.  So hopefully Yemen's legendary wisdom will prevail.

Fighting the Wrong War: Not in the Prophet's Name
By Observer Staff
Mar 11, 2006 -

Dr. Abdullah Al-Faqih
SANA'A - Yemen is focusing on the wrong people in targeting Mohammed Al-Asadi and the Yemen Observer in the accusations of insulting the Prophet (PBUH), according to a leading academic.
Dr Abdullah Al-Faqih, Professor of Politics at Sana'a University and head of the Change Forum, an independent NGO working to promote political dialogue, appealed to they Yemeni people arguing that they are "fighting the wrong war" in targeting the newspaper.

"Yemen's battle is not with Al-Asadi but with poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment, and diseases," he said. Dr Al-Faqih, in an interview with the Observer, wrote an appeal for real justice to be made, calling the trial a `witch hunt.' His statement follows below.  "It is inconceivable to think that a newspaper like the Yemen Observer would intentionally seek to insult Muslims or their Prophet (PBUH) in any manner.

Yet the Observer and its Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Mohammed Al-Asadi, are put on trial for committing such a crime. The paper and its editor are accused of republishing the infamous blasphemous cartoons that were initially published in a Danish paper last September. The cartoons later provoked world-wide Muslim rage, leading to the death of tens of Muslims after clashing with police in several world capitals.

The editor of the paper, whom I met a few months ago in Aden, is a very articulate, polite, and trustworthy young Muslim journalist.
The paper itself has a history of moderation and respect for Islam and other religions. In fact, it frequently runs stories attesting to its commitments to, and respects of, Islamic values and principles.
Those close to Al-Asadi, lawyers and friends hold great respect for him and think he and the paper are being targeted for no good reason.
Images of the cartoons appearing in the paper were covered with a big X. The accompanying editorials expressed disgust at the publication of the cartons.

This is not a case related to freedom of the press per se. The Observer was part of the anti-cartoon movement and not a supporter of those ridiculing the Prophet and all Muslims.  The case appears to be a case of "witch-hunt." The trial of the Observer and the call for the execution of its editor is a disservice to Yemenis, Muslims and to Islam too. "Witch-hunting" has nothing to do with Islam and its principles, values, and way of life.

The attempt to use a situation, of misjudgment at worse, to settle old scores or to intimidate newspapers and journalists, gives the wrong message to people within and without the Muslim world. The ongoing court case serves only those who propagate stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant people.  It is neither in the interest of the litigants, nor in the interest of the defendants to continue a baseless case and to provoke laymen's emotions in a very irresponsible manner.

Sheik Zindani, a very popular Yemeni religious scholar, is said to be steering the case. It has been reported that Mr. Zindani collected the sum of five million Yemeni rials from donors for hiring lawyers to prosecute the Observer and two other Yemeni papers.  The motives behind the case are not quite clear. Zindani himself has had some trouble with press coverage, with American accusations leveled against him. He also has had trouble with the government's handling of his case. The political situation in Yemen is very complicated.

Whatever the motives are, it would be a violation of justice to try the paper and its editor -using an incident of misjudgment in the worst case scenario - and not taking into account the paper's history and the editor's characteristics. While my brothers and sisters who are litigants in the case may have the best of intentions, they should know that they are fighting the wrong war.

The Yemen Observer is not the enemy, and its editor-in-chief is not the culprit. To those brothers and sisters who were offended by the paper, please and direct your attention, energy, and resources to Yemen's real battle. Yemen's battle is not with Al-Asadi but with poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment, and diseases."

Al-Faqih runs the Change Forum, which seeks to promote dialogue among political forces in Yemen, provide consultation on policy matters, and propose policy alternatives.  The latest of its activities occurred last Thursday March 9 when it organized a two-session workshop on the ongoing political crisis concerning the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum. The workshop attracted representatives from the ruling party, opposition parties, academics, independent politicians, and the commission itself.

Copyright (c) 2004 - 2005
Yemen Observer Newspaper

I like the silence of a church, before the service begins better than any preaching. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
by Norwegian Chef (hephaestion@surfbirder.com) on Sat Mar 11th, 2006 at 10:40:45 PM EST

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