Amnesty International has called on the Yemeni authorities to ensure that the editor of the al-Ayyam newspaper and his two sons, detained earlier this month, are protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Hisham Bashraheel and his sons Muhammad and Hani were arrested after taking part in a sit-in protest on 4 January at al-Ayyam’s offices in the southern city of Aden to mark eight months since the authorities effectively banned them from printing and distributing copies of the newspaper.
Security forces fired on the protestors on 4 January and the newspaper’s security guards returned fire: one member of the security forces was killed and three wounded; one security guard was killed and three wounded.
“We fear that Hisham Bashraheel and his sons may be prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. If so, they should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
Hisham and Hani Bashraheel were detained on 6 January. Muhammad Bashraheel was arrested on 5 January. All three are being held and questioned at the Criminal Investigation Department in Aden.
All three have been allowed to see their families and lawyers on at least two occasions since 12 January, having apparently been denied access to them before.
Based on its research into patterns of torture and other ill-treatment in Yemen over a number of years, Amnesty International believes that the place and nature of their detention puts them at risk of such treatment.
The authorities began their crackdown on al-Ayyam, one of Yemen’s largest-circulation daily newspapers, on 30 April 2009, when they confiscated every copy of the paper from street news stands and distribution points in the capital Sana’a and southern cities.
Similar action was also taken against six other newspapers on 4 May, when the offices of al-Ayyam were also then blockaded by the security forces to prevent copies of the newspaper from being distributed.
On 5 May the government announced that it would be banning all newspapers which it believed had expressed support for the secession of the south of the country in coverage of protests in the region.
Despite this, al-Ayyam published some news on its website during 2009.
On 13 May the security forces attacked al-Ayyam’s office, killing two men, one of them a security guard, and wounding another. They were trying to arrest Hisham Bashraheel, in connection with an incident in February 2008 when gunmen shot at his home and his security guards retuned fire. One of the attackers was killed and another injured.
Hisham Bashraheel has not been charged in connection with the incident, but others are on trial for the killing. He may have been targeted solely because of al-Ayyam’s coverage of the protests in the southern part of the country.
The actions taken against al-Ayyam and six other newspapers followed their coverage of a number of protests in the south of the country, in the lead-up to 27 April 2009, the 15th anniversary of the start of the three-month civil war between the Yemeni government in Sana’a and southern separatists.
A coalition of political groups known as the Southern Movement, seen by the government as calling for the independence of the southern part of the country, was said to be behind the protests.
Amnesty International has urged the Yemeni authorities to allow the three detainees prompt and regular access to lawyers of their choosing, their families and any medical treatment they may require.
“Any charges brought against the detainees must be revealed, and the authorities must ensure that any legal proceedings against them conform to international fair trial standards,” said Philip Luther.