Yemen: 18 months in prison for ‘insulting the president’

NEWS

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Yemen:
18 months in prison for ‘insulting the president’

The popular Yemeni singer and performer Fahd al-Qarni is said to have insulted the president and the ruling party, and for this he recieved a sentence of one year and a half in prison as well as a fine of 500.000 Yemeni Riyals (2,500 US dollars) by the primary court in Taiz. The sentence also said that he must give a grant never to sing again.

On 9 July 2008 at around 6:30 in the morning, the court found Fahd al-Qarni guilty of illegal acts against the government, which they said he perpetrated through his sarcastic comedic-art productions. He was ordered to hand over his recordings of all his productions. In addition, Fahd al-Qarni will have a bail set on the condition that he will not reproduce any of his work.

The Culture Office in Taiz produced it’s appeal to the court. It said that 18 months in prison would not be enough.

Supporters detained
The early morning verdict, two hours before normal office hours, was rumored to be a court tactic designed to prevent the media from covering the announcement, reported Yemen Times.

Security forces detained a number of people while they protested in front of the Taiz Court of Appeals soon after the verdict in Fahd al-Qarni’s case was announced. They shot their weapons near the gathering in order to disperse the crowd.

Satirical songs
Fahd al-Qarni is a Taiz-based performer who often uses political topics in his satirical songs and plays. In July 2006, members of the Criminal Investigations Bureau arrested shopkeepers in an effort to prohibit the circulation of a cassette by the popular artist. The cassette combines traditional folk compositions with humour, irony and criticism of the government’s policies.

His songs were said to have attracted a lot of people to attend the opposition rallies in the recent presidential elections.

Refused to apologize
On 4 April 2008, the Yemeni authorities arrested him as he was heading to Aden to participate in a festival. He was charged with inciting an armed overthrow of the government and insulting the president through his satirical songs.

Fahd al-Qarni was previously asked to apologise in writing for his publicly expressed opinions regarding the corruption of the government, but he refused, saying that he did not do anything that deserved an apology.

Protests
Yemen’s main opposition, the Joint Meeting parties, condemned the imprisonment ruling.

Abdul Hafidh Al-Faqeeh, the head of Islah Party’s Taiz Office, told the Yemen Times that the court’s verdict against Fahd al-Qarni was politically motivated: “The verdict was ‘cooked’ in the GPC’s leadership premises and recited by the judge,” he told the newspaper.

Others talked of shortcomings in the country’s judicial system. The writer and analyst Saied Thabit said that the ruling issued against Fahd al-Qarni showed undoubtedly that Yemen’s Judiciary is not independent and that it is susceptible to interference from the government.

Lawsuits against publishers
The authorities are said to be preparing to file lawsuits against numerous newspapers and writers, particularly after they published news and articles dealing with Fahd al-Qarni’s issue.

Dr Agnès Callamard, executive director of the human rights organisation Article 19, described the ruling against Fahd al-Qarni to be an indicator that Yemen’s free expression is in peril. On 10 July 2008 Article 19 published a press release about his imprisonment and the recent developments in Yemen which was circulated by IFEX.




Fadh al-Qarni



Sources

Article 19 – 10 July 2008:

‘Yemen: Freedom of Expression in Peril’ (PDF)

IFEX – 10 July 2008:

‘Yemen: Freedom of Expression in Peril’

Yemen Times – 9 July 2008:

‘Al-Qarni sentenced to 18 months in prison’

Al Sahwa Net – 9 July 2008:

‘Yemeni opposition condemns sentence against singer’

IFEX Alert – 14 April 2008:

‘Yemen: Multiple Attacks on Freedom of Expression’

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