Two Al-Jazeera journalists based in Yemen are set to go on trial on May 21 for breaking the law by continuing to broadcast the Yemeni political uprising, even as their accreditation was cancelled.
Ahmed al-Shalafi and Hamdi al-Bukari, both Sana’a based Al Jazeera correspondents, have to appear in the special Press and Publications Court as they have been accused by the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government of provoking public and "operating outside the bounds of the law," according to news reports.
A case was filed against them in June 2011 and was later withdrawn by the Ministry of Information. Despite that, the Press and Publications Court have asked to re-open the case.
A local press freedom group, Freedom Foundation, said in a release received by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom that it "fears that a trial may be a new attempt to resume political mobilisation and incitement against the reporters of AlJazeera in Yemen."
The Ministry of Information pulled out its case earlier because it found no written orders from to prevent correspondents from practicing, the group said.
"The passport of the correspondent Ahmed al-Shalafi has been confiscated for more than a year by the National security (elite intelligence agency) and also listed in the list of persons banned from travelling abroad. Security has also been refused to renewal of passports of Ahmed al-Shalafi's three children," added the Freedom Foundation release.
Al Jazeera journalists have been severely targeted during the Arab Spring, not only in Yemen but also in neighbouring countries. Many journalists have faced assault, death threats, harassment, detention and even lost their lives while covering the Arab Spring since last year. Cameraman Ali Hassan Al Jaber, a Qatari national and Al Jazeera journalist was killed while he was reporting on the Libyan uprising in Benghazi.
In April 2011, the network’s bureau in Yemen was raided, forced to shut down and stripped of accreditation in retaliation to the news it had broadcast which led to the fall of Saleh’s regime.
In an interview with Committee to Protect Journalists, Saeed Thabit, Al Jazeera’s Yemen bureau chief, said that these are attempts by the Yemeni government to curb press freedom in the country and so far no one has been prosecuted for the attacks on the channels bureau in 2011.
Months after the former government has toppled, there has been no improvement in terms of press freedom. Later this month, the cabinet is set to discuss a bill that will severely impinge on media’s liberty. The bill is named as Audio-Visual and Electronic Media and it would impose heavy registration fees on private broadcasters, licensing fees for online media organisations and also impose stricter state regulations, overall diminishing any chances of improving the press in Yemen.