The International Observatory for Human Rights has issued an open letter calling on Houthi authorities to pardon four journalists who are condemned to death and to release all media workers from prison amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Each year, 3 May marks UNESCO World Press Freedom Day. Usually this day is the only one when journalists and media professionals become the focus and are recognised for their achievements, bravery and tenacity in reporting. However it has also become the fulcrum of campaigns to free journalists imprisoned for doing their job.
This year is no different. As the world focuses on the impact of the Coronavirus and the spread of disinformation that has engulfed social media a Houthi controlled court in Yemen quietly sentenced four journalists to death to send a message to the press there to stay silent.
Echoing the chant of many demonstrations to free media around the world Valerie Peay, Director of London based NGO, The International Observatory of Human Rights said,
“Journalism is not a crime and it is not just to sentence four men to death simply for doing their job covering the civil war in Yemen. World Press Freedom Day is not simply a date, it’s a rallying call to free all media professionals around the world.”
IOHR has sent an open letter to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the four journalists facing the death penalty; Abdul Khaleq Imran, Akram El Walidi, Harith Hamid, Tawfiq Al-Mansouri
The letter, signed by over 100 international organisations and individuals that include MPs and civil society supporters notes “We respect the independence of the Yemeni courts, but we appeal to you to reverse the death sentences of April 11, 2020 against these four journalists, and intervene to pardon them.” The letter was signed by prominent organizations and personalities including Maria Ressa, Founder and CEO of Rappler, Paulo Casaca, Founder and Director of the South Asia Democratic Forum, Greg Roman, Director of Middle East Forum in the USA , Tim Loughton MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, Mohamed Fahmy: Journalist, CEO-Investigative Journal and Founder Fahmy Foundation, Canadian Journalists For Free Expression (CJFE), Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and Lee Wolosky the American diplomat and attorney who served as the U.S. Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure in the Barack Obama Administration.
More than 30 journalists have been killed in Yemen in recent years, while more than 200 media professionals have been arrested and subjected to unlawful torture and arbitrary detention. In a special report released on 1 May 2020, IOHR released witness statements and official documents, as evidence that some of journalists have been used as bargaining chips to be exchanged for captured Houthi fighters or tortured in prisons. In an interview for the IOHR report, Nabil Al Ausaidi, head of legal affairs for the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate noted;
“In the past five years, there were more than 1,300 different cases of violations against the press, including 35 murders of journalists, some of whom were attacked by sniper fire in front of TV cameras while they were doing their jobs,”
The report is accompanied by exclusive footage to support the claims of the lawyer and families of the accused journalists. Waddah Al-Mansouri, the brother of journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri who faced the death penalty spoke to IOHR about his brother’s ordeal and the impact it has had on his family:
“My brother Tawfiq is in a very bad health condition. I remember that the Journalists Syndicate, the Federation of Arab Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists, appealed two years ago to different organisations to rescue him after his health deteriorated as a result of constant and brutal torture, denial of food, and the practice of the worst physical and psychological torture.”
As the tenuous ceasefire holds in Yemen, journalists to be able to report without fear or favour. The open letter called on the Houthi militia to show compassion with “a gesture towards these four journalists and their families can send a message to the world that the leadership in Yemen respects the value of life and freedom of expression.”