President of mass destruction

A journalist who described President Salih as a "weapon of mass destruction" has been given a two-year jail sentence and banned from writing for two years by Yemen's special press court. 

Munir al-Mawri, who now lives in the US and was tried in his absence, also questioned the president's political ability and accused him of protecting corrupt officials in an article for al-Masdar newspaper last May.

The paper's editor, Sameer Jubran, was given a one-year sentence, plus a one-year ban from his post.

According to the head of the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate, these are the toughest sentences imposed on journalists since 1990, when Yemen formally espoused press freedom. A court set up specifically to deal with media "offences" started worklast July with about 150 cases pending.

Article 103 of the Yemeni press law says it is forbidden to criticise "the person" of the head of state but adds, ambiguously, that this does "not necessarily apply to constructive criticism".

In remarks quoted by the German Press Agency, al-Masdar's editor argues that the article in question was a criticism of "the president's performance", not his person.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 November 2009.