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Plight of the Middle East Cartoon Editors

by Norwegian Chef Fri Apr 21st, 2006 at 09:06:49 AM EST

In my continuing follow-up on the cartoon editors, it seems that Mohammed Al-Asadi, the editor of the Yemen Observer remains the only one left in jail pending trial.  His continued case is most interesting and I will get into more detail below.

The charges against the two Jordanian Editors Jihad Momani and Hisham Khalidi who published the cartoons seem to have evaporated, and they remain free.

In Algeria, Reporters Without Borders reported on March 16th the release of Kamel Bousaâd and Berkane Bouderbala, the editors of the two sister weeklies Errissala and Essafir.  They remain free and there has been no subsequent report of any trial.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

Unfortunately, the Yemen Observer's Mohammed Al-Asadi remains in prison, and the paper is technically shut down although the web version is continuing.

Al-Asadi's much postponed trial was scheduled to continue yesterday on 19th April, but in a continued series of errors by the prosecution, it was again postponed, leaving Al-Asadi in jail and the paper closed.

Here is the story from the Yemen Observer.

Observer Trial Adjourned as Prosecution Apologizes
By Zaid Al-Alaya'a
Apr 19, 2006 -

UPDATED: SANA'A - The trial of Mohammed Al-Asadi, Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Observer, was adjourned on Wednesday for two weeks because the prosecution team had failed to adequately prepare for the trial.
Judge Sahl Hamza adjourned the hearing in the General South-East Court in Sana'a until May 3.

The defense team criticized the prosecution lawyers, pointing out that it was the fourth time the trial had been adjourned, and that they had had plenty of time since the last hearing on March 22 to prepare.

The financial director of the Yemen Observer claimed it was a deliberate ploy to delay a decision, to continue to keep the newspaper closed and its license suspended.

In so doing, they hope to starve the newspaper of the vital funds it needs to operate, forcing it to close permanently, the newspaper said.

Al-Asadi is accused in connection with allegations of republishing insulting cartoons first printed in Denmark of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). The editor, who denies all charges, is charged under a press law that bans publication of anything that "prejudices the Islamic faith".
The newspaper published two thumbnail images of the cartoons in the February 4 edition, which were obscured with a thick black cross.

However, prosecution lawyers claimed they had been "confused" about the trial date because they had been preparing for separate a case, and asked for the hearing to be adjourned for a week. The court postponed it for two.

Defense lawyer Khalid Al-Ansi, from the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD), called for the case to be dismissed since one lawyer who had filed a case against Al-Asadi had failed to turn up.

Al-Ansi also complained to the judge that the private prosecution lawyers had failed to follow court requirements of submitting their cases documents charging the defendant.

The judge demanded the private prosecution lawyers hand in all evidence to the court.

The editor is not only facing charges from the state's Attorney General, but also from a team of at least 14 lawyers who have filed independent suits. The suits are allowed under a clause of Yemeni law that allows individuals to take a case to court if they believe their civil rights to have been infringed.

In the March 8 hearing the lawyers - commissioned by Sheik Abdul-Majid Zindani, the Chairman of Islah Shura Council - called for Al-Asadi to be executed.

They also called for the Yemen Observer to be permanently shut down and for all the newspaper's property and assets to be confiscated.
They recounted a story in which a lady was killed during the Prophet's lifetime after she insulted him, and that the Prophet then praised the killer. They said that they wanted the same punishment to be applied on "those who abuse the Prophet" (PBUH).

However, the prosecution lawyers apologized on Wednesday for allegations they had made at the trial's previous hearing on March 22, asking for them to be struck out of the court record.

They had claimed that Al-Ansi, a distinguished human rights lawyer who has also defended several Yemeni detainees in the US Guantanamo Bay military prison, was funded by `foreign sources'.

"We would like to apologize for the accusation that the HOOD organization was taking money from international organizations abroad to defend journalists who insulted the Prophet (PBUH)," the prosecution lawyers said in a statement.

"We would like HOOD to accept the apology, and say that these accusations had nothing to do with the case."

Al-Asadi said the repeated delays were "frustrating".

"My lawyer told me last night that he had prepared a complete and powerful response to the accusations presented by the private lawyers, commissioned by Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al-Zindani," Al-Asadi said.

"He was not able to defend the Yemen Observer and me again. I had hoped this hearing would be the last before the final one.

"I think the case has taken longer time that it should have taken, and it is very frustrating and discouraging.

"I hate appearing every time before the judge for only practicing my job. This delay also means the Yemen Observer will remain closed, and extra losses and damage will take place."

The newspaper's license to print hardcopies of the paper remains suspended, but the website continues to operate. Prosecution lawyers have also demanded Al-Asadi be permanently banned from practicing journalism.

Gamal Eid, Executive Director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, also observed the trial. The Cairo-based human rights observer attended the trial as part of a project supported by the Outreach Programme of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange.

Both Human Rights Watch and Reporters Sans Frontiers have called for criminal charges to be dropped, while Amnesty International has sent representatives to the trial.

The New York-based Freedom of the Press Committee of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) has sent a letter to President Saleh calling for charges to be dropped. They say the trial violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Copyright (c) 2004 - 2005
Yemen Observer Newspaper

Dr. Moncef Marzouki, a Tunisian Public Freedoms Activist and writer contributes an editorial piece to on-going saga of Al-Asadi.

Mohammed Al-Asadi and the New Ordeal of Journalism
By Dr. Moncef Marzouki*
Apr 18, 2006 -

Dr. Moncef Marzouki
The problems facing the Yemeni journalist Mohammed Al-Asadi and the other Arab journalists arrested in Morocco, Algeria and Jordan for accusations of reprinting insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), reminds us of the American military terminology of `collateral damage'.

They are like the associated, often innocent, casualties arising from a showdown between two warring sides.

However, I take it for granted that the collateral damages are part of plot and not a mistake. Indeed, sometimes are in fact the goal of the plot, which is ostensibly targeted otherwise.

The sides that fuelled the war of the blasphemous cartoons are the racist right-wingers who dream of a devastating collision of civilizations, while also seizing the opportunity for Islamic and Arab regimes to appear as advocates of Islamic values. Instead, they are desperately in need of a shot of mercy.

Some religious figures, such as the Mufti of Qatar, have exploited the opportunity for improving their own battered image. They want to form what they call `Committees for Prophet Protection', a behaviour that suggests the Holy Prophet Mohammed Salla Allahu Alayhi Wasallam, is an ordinary person.

They have taken it upon themselves, as if the prophet needs these jokers to defend him. It has become a battle between two mad, opportunist sides who struck successfully at the most sensitive of issues.

In this battle of elephants, the journalist Mohammed Al-Asadi, editor of the Yemen Observer, has been maliciously knocked to the ground, so that he is now amongst those blackmailed for the alleged assault against the symbol of holiness.

Among al-Asadi's writings I have read are these phrases: "My name is Mohammed, the same name of the prophet Sallah Allahu Alayhi Wasallam. I can't in any way insult him. "What I published defends the Prophet, and you can see that for yourself".

He adds: "The report of ours joined the Islamic world in denouncing the insult. It was a summary of what some scholars have said in admiration of the prophet".

He also said: "I published a 5cm picture of parts of the cartoons, concealed with a large cross. It was a signal of total rejection and contempt of the cartoons for the western readers of the paper".
He asks: "Is this a slander of the Holy Prophet - which no Muslim can do, as long as he professes that there is no God except Allah and that Mohammed is Allah's messenger?" He has given all the articles and information, translated into Arabic, to the court. "This is an accusation of my faith that I can't accept," he adds.

Is that then the crux of the issue? Al-Asadi is a journalist, a profession sometimes seen as one of the worst threats for Arab states under totalitarian rule.

Here we come to face our regular enemy that we hold in contempt and hate, the corrupt Arab political regime.

However, the problem is that Al-Asadi's case is more complicated that it appears to be. A totalitarian state merely exploits the opportunity to annihilate its most hated foe, free journalists producing news of corruption and distortion.

Yet the person spearheading this campaign against Al-Asadi is one of the victims of this regime. He doesn't bother to make an ally of Al-Asadi today, even though he may fear they may be a potential enemy of the regime tomorrow

Ali al-Jaradi, the media and culture director for the Association of Yemeni Journalists, has called on Sheikh Abdulmajid al-Zandani to use the funds he raised for suing the journalists to instead sue the US authorities, for alleged abuse in the Guantanamo Bay prison including flushing a Holy Qu'ran down a toilet.

Perhaps we exaggerated by blaming political autocracy, for that is simply the tip of the iceberg.

What we have learnt is that this political totalitarianism is not an import from Mars, nor the imposed will of Israel or President Bush. Instead, the regimes crippling our energies are the result of our own totalitarian societies. This is incontrovertible.

The one spearheading the oppression of this free journalist is not the ruling authority. Instead, it is an individual volunteering to raise funds not for fighting hunger but for suiting Al-Asadi. He is well aware of what he will gain, killing two birds with one stone.

This person is carrying the flag of a society riddled with fanaticism and misogynism.

If it is not stopped, only a bloodier form of totalitarianism will be established over the ruins of the present totalitarian system.

The new totalitarianism will be ignorant and will only slowly learn - over the dead bodies of the innocent.

Al-Asadi is between the heavy hammer of political totalitarianism and the deeper totalitarianism of the society. We are all morally obliged to stand by him and to step up our rhetoric to attack totalitarianism.
Journalism, the most important tool of democracy - represented by Al-Asadi - is under siege in Yemen and the whole Arab world on two fronts, not a single one.

We must look after the individual tree more than we care for the whole wood.

Thanks for keeping an eye on this.
by Number 6 on Thu Apr 20th, 2006 at 09:18:32 AM EST
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 20th, 2006 at 09:19:29 AM EST
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