From Yemen to YouTube

WITNESS, a U.S.-based organization, has teamed up with a Yemeni rights group to produce a series of videos highlighting human rights abuses in Yemen. The first stars 7-year-old Eeba, daughter of jailed Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khiwani, who discusses the night her father was beaten in front of her.
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Imprisoned Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khiwani, left, and his daughter Eeba speaking out in the WITNESS video. R.R.

SANA'A, July 30, 2008 (MENASSAT) – 7-year-old Eeba al-Khiwani has a new video out. The daughter of jailed Yemeni journalist Abdulkarim al-Khiwani has joined in an effort with the Yemen-based human rights group, Montada al-Shaqaeq (Sisters' Forum), and the New York-based rights group WITNESS to highlight government abuses against citizens and journalists in Yemen.

The collaboration is the first between WITNESS and a Yemeni-based human rights organization. WITNESS, whose motto is "See it - Film it - Change it, " works on establishing partnerships with activist civil organizations in many regions of the world and uses video and online technologies to highlight civil rights abuses.

The three-minute video with Al-Khiwani's daughter, which is also available on YouTube, is bound to increase awareness of her father's imprisonment.

Abdulkarim Al-Khiwani, former editor-in-chief of Al Shora newspaper and website, was given a 6-year sentence after he was accused of collaborating with the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. Human rights groups have said that al-Khiwani's court case was a sham.

Efficient but dangerous

For the Sisters' Forum, the collaboration with WITNESS is taking traditional human rights activism to a new technological level.

"Rights awareness all around the world is using new, faster and more efficient means which needs much care and caution," Balkis al-Lahbi, project manager for the Sisters' Forum said.

"This is a dangerous road here in Yemen, although it is certainly more effective than traditional media forms like print."

Al-Khiwani's daughter Ibaa's video testimony was designed to create more understanding of a case which has a long history. Groups like the International Society for Journalists and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) have documented Al-Khiwani's abuse at the hands of the Yemeni government at length.

The first part of the video is based on interviews with Ibaa discussing what she witnessed on a night in June 2007, when her father was taken by force from the family home in the middle of the night by Yemeni security agents and beaten in front of her eyes.

The second part of the video, which has yet to be released, includes a political voice speaking about the legal fallacies of the case and the chilling effect it is having on media and journalistic rights.

Sisters' Forum member Ammar Abed said, "Our media rights campaign [for Al-Khiwani] will likely take a new turn because of the effect of this video."

Video as a tool

Sami Ghaleb, editor-in-chief of the Yemen independent weekly al-Nidaa, pointed out that "this movie is a real back-up for all kinds of human rights and media freedoms abuses in Yemen which we witness on a near daily basis."

The Sisters' Forum has not planned a huge marketing campaign around the video release. They are content with releasing it in parts so as to assure that the information and presentation are clear to whoever watches it. They added that the video could be later used as proof in a future trial. 

WITNESS uses the documentary technique because it is a powerful form of evidence in rights cases in countries where it is admissible in court. If not, WITNESS contends it is still a powerful means of raising public awareness..

WITNESS is not alone in this. Only last week, the Israel-based human rights group, B'Tselem, released footage of an Israeli soldier shooting of Palestinian detainee in the leg in the West Bank village of Ni'lin. The video was part of B'Tselem's "Shooting Back project, which uses video to expose the abuse of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

Yemeni journalist, Ahmad al-Zarqa, thinks that the pressure is growing on the Yemeni government where human rights abuses are concerned.

"This video will have a positive impact on human rights and the rights of journalists in Yemen," he said.

Two more videos are expected to be released as part of the collaboration between WITNESS and the Sisters' Forum. They will focus on human rights abuses against women and the flaws in the Yemeni legal system.