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
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