Al-Khaiwani: 'I am still in danger'

The Yemeni authorities have lifted the travel ban on journalist Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani after he was stopped last Sunday on his way to a UN human rights conference in Egypt. MENASSAT spoke with Al-Khaiwani earlier this week about his still precarious situation.
Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani was given the Amnesty International Special Award in June 2008 while still in prison. R.R.

SANAA, December 4, 2008 (MENASSAT)—Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, 43, has been working for over fifteen years in Yemen, where he has faced blatant censorship, including a four-year ban on his work. Al-Khaiwani has been in and out of prison, interrogated, threatened, harassed, and beaten for his writings. 

He wrote about issues such as the abuse of power in the government, corruption in the economic and petroleum sectors, the human rights violations in North Yemen against followers of the insurgent Hussein Al-Houthi, and prisoners' rights.

In 2004, the journalist took a lead position in the editorial staff of the opposition paper Al-Shoura, and in December he was sentenced to one year in jail for insulting the president. He ended up serving only seven months thanks to international and local pressure to release him.

Three years later, on June 20, 2007, al-Khaiwani’s house was raided and he was officially charged with "plotting to topple the ruling regime." He served one month in jail and ended up writing a report on prison culture in Yemen. He was released and pardoned because of health problems. 
At the time, rumors circulated that al-Khaiwani had to promise to renounce all "anti-government activity" in exchange for his release. But upon his release, al-Khaiwani said he had made no promises, and that he would continue to work "within the law and the constitution."

So the travel ban does not come as a big surprise, especially since Al-Khaiwani was invited to attend the 3rd Arab Free Press Forum, which takes place in Beirut on December 12-13.

[Editor's note: Al-Khaiwani told on Thrusday that the General Prosecution has issued a circular based on a letter from the head of the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate Nasr Taha Mustapha to take his name off the list of those prevented from traveling abroad. The circular was sent to all concerned authorities. It clarifies that journalist Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani was among those blocked from traveling abroad as he was on trial, but he was now freed. The interview below took place just before the decision was taken.]

MENASSAT: Did you expect this ban?

"After I got out of jail, I heard from some people with official connections that I would face some difficulties when traveling. But it was difficult to be sure until I went to the airport.

"When I reached the airport [on November 30], I found that my name was still on the black list without any directions having been given to remove it. I tried to convince the airport security forces that I had received a presidential pardon, but they didn't receive any clear directions to allow me to travel.

"We started hearing other news about the possibility of my being arrested again, similar to what happened in November 2006. Then, I was banned from traveling to participate in a regional conference in Morocco. I was taken from the airport straight to the Interior Ministry."

MENASSAT: What does this ban mean?

"It means that I'm subject to house arrest."

MENASSAT: Does it also mean your file is not closed yet?

"The file was supposed to be closed by a presidential decision, but the ban means that the decision is only suspended and still open for some time. There is no legal problem, but it means that my constitutional rights, including the freedom to travel and the freedom of movement, have been taken away from me. It might be just an administrative, procedural or technical mistake, but there has not been any official statement released about this."

MENASSAT: Why do you think they won't let you travel outside Yemen?

"There are some who don't want me to participate in any regional human rights or media conference, because they know that I will speak out about the human rights abuses and the lack of freedom in my country.

"But if the ban is used as an attempt to prevent me from revealing facts to others, it will not be useful, since the lack of freedom in Yemen is no longer a mystery. There are organizations, newspapers and websites noting everything that it happening. But some still think that they are doing the regime a favor by banning me from traveling. The fact is that they are harming the regime."

MENASSAT: Is this some sort of a punishment?


MENASSAT: Have you tried to challenge the authorities over your travel ban?

"I sent a memo to the general attorney and he answered to the specialized criminal court, saying there is no reason for banning me from traveling. But there wasn't anybody in the court that day; it was the end of working hours and the beginning of the holidays. Until now, we didn't get any official reactions."

MENASSAT: Has this ban made you doubt the presidential pardon?

"This is a question for the president. This action makes me doubt the decision and the presidential pardon. I think there is something missing here, and that the president should be forced to defend his decisions and policies. This matter will erase the trust and credibility, which is based on following and defending the law. What is happening tarnishes our image."

MENASSAT: What do you expect will happen now?

"I still feel that I'm in danger and my situation is difficult, especially on the family and social levels."

MENASSAT Do you think you might be arrested again?

"I hope not—for my sake and for my country's. But I think everything is possible... It is a serious and dangerous situation. The biggest question is: where are we going?"