Jailed for laughing

Yemeni journalist Mohamad al-Mokaleh has been in prison for two months for... laughing in court during the trial of another journalist.
yemen trial
Mohamed al-Mokaleh in a Sana'a detention facility. R.R.

SANA'A, June 2, 2008 (MENASSAT) – State prosecutors have accused Mohamad al-Mokaleh of "attacking and defaming the judicial system" for his outburst of laughter last April during the trial of fellow dissident journalist Abed al-Karim al-Khiwami.

The Yemeni Criminal Court responsible for the state's security matters has set a date for al-Mokaleh's trial on June 15, marking two months since the judge at the al-Khiwami trial decided to imprison al-Mokaleh for "disrupting court order."

According to Abed al-Khiwani, his colleague's laughter was admittedly loud during the closing arguments of his trial, which came after the state prosecutor was unable to explain and read parts of the defense's closing argument.

After the prosecutor screamed out his objection, the judge decided to imprison al-Mokaleh for 14 hours as mandated by law, but the real contention over al-Mokaleh's detention did not occur until the day after his initial detention.

The criminal prosecutor refused to release al-Mokaleh and extended his sentence for one week in order to open up an investigation accusing him of "attacking the judiciary system and insulting the judge."

But critics of the judge's decision say the charges appear to be a pretense designed by the Yemeni government to silence al-Mokaleh.

In the months prior to his April outburst in court, the regime had failed to arrest al-Mokaleh, although he is on record as saying he has been subjected to a series of subpoenas that called into question the nature of his story content. Al-Mokaleh also said he has faced numerous physical and verbal threats and other forms of harassment because of his criticism of the Yemeni government and President.

Yemeni poet Abdul Aziz al-Mokaleh, a cultural consultant to the President and head of the Yemenite Center for Cultural Studies and Research, has advocated that the Yemeni court reduce the harsh measures imposed on al-Mokaleh in prison but he fell short of calling for al-Mokaleh's release.

Despite the extreme respect he enjoys amid the Yemeni society, Abdul al-Mokaleh said he had his requests rebuffed, and the trial is continuing to be handled in a court that some Yemini law experts have characterized as "exceptional, against the constitution, and deprived of the minimum conditions necessary for a fair trial."

A close friend of al-Mokaleh, Al-Ghobary said he fears for his friend's fate.

"The judge refused our demand to release him (al-Mokaleh) with a fine, and our peers are convinced that this matter had nothing to do with al-Mokaleh's laughing or crying, but with his political views," Al-Ghoubary said.

Al-Ghobary also said that al-Mokaleh, who heads the Journalists' Syndicate and is the General Secretary of the Socialist Party already apologized to the judge for his outburst.

The Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate denounced what it called "arbitrary procedures against al-Mokaleh for disrupting the order of a trial he was attending to show his support to al-Khiwani."

"The judge's refusal to release him despite the absence of reasons to imprison him enhances our belief that the motive for his trial is court vengeance and prosecution by outside forces that are critical of his published opinions," a Syndicate statement read.

Sources indicate that several Yemeni officials have intervened in an attempt to secure the release of al-Mokaleh to no avail. Nine Yemeni MPs were unable to use their power to enter the prison where al-Mokaleh is being held, having been told by the judiciary that the prosecution denied their requests.

Despite being imprisoned, Mohamed al-Mokaleh succeeded in leaking a letter to the Arab National Conference held from May 10-13 in Sana’a, Yemen.

"While I feel exhilarated that my country Yemen is gathering hundreds of fine Arab brothers, I feel some sadness for not being able to welcome them or participate in the conference," al-Mokaleh said.