Viewed by detractors as more of a politician than a newsman, al-Khaiwani is the only Yemeni journalist behind bars, and his case has not gone unnoticed.

 

US Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula J Dobriansky said she had raised the issue with her Yemeni hosts during a visit to Sanaa last month.

 

A Sanaa-based diplomat who requested anonymity said: "These things are not good for a country's reputation. Of course, he should be out."

 

Al-Khaiwani, who edits the opposition weekly Al-Shura, was given the one-year jail sentence in early September on grounds of inciting violence, defaming President Ali Abd Allah Salah and publishing false news.

 

His case is linked to an armed rebellion waged by Zaidi preacher Shaikh Husain Badr Uddin al-Huthi in northwest Yemen last year.

 

The Zaidi group is a moderate Shia Muslim sect dominant in northwest Yemen but in the minority in the mainly Sunni country.

 

Killing

 

The Yemeni government announced on 10 September that the army had killed al-Huthi, nearly three months after he started a rebellion in the mountainous northwest, near the border with Saudi Arabia, triggering clashes that left more than 400 people dead.

 

Al-Khaiwani has been jailed for
defaming Salah (above) 

Al-Khaiwani, a member of the Zaidi group, defended al-Huthi throughout the conflict and was bitterly critical of the government's handling of the rebellion.

 

He went so far as to lash out at the family of the Yemeni president, which is normally unthinkable in an Arab country.

 

Al-Khaiwani was hauled away and re-emerged in a Sanaa prison a few days later, where he remains.

 

He reportedly was recently attacked by another inmate.

 

Decision unmade

 

"To this day, the appeal court has not made a decision," said Rahma Ali Hugira, a 28-year-old journalist who founded the Yemen Female Media Forum to promote the rights of women journalists in Yemen.

 

"They don't have the right to put him in jail" before the appeal court has has its say, she added.

 

"They don't have the right to put him in jail"

Rahma Ali Hugira,
Yemeni journalist

But the court seems in no hurry to rule. A verdict that had been expected on 2 March was postponed until 22 March when the court president ordered the public to vacate the place minutes after the session began.

 

Several lawyers and journalists were beaten up in the process, witnesses said.

 

"Who is this man?" Prime Minister Abd al-Kadir Bajammal shot back when queried about al-Khaiwani.

 

"He is nothing," Bajammal said. "He has worked ... against the law, against national unity ... to divide society... This man is neither a journalist nor professional."