OP-ED

Citizens show support for embattled female journalist

National Yemen

Samia al-Aghbari

By Maram Alabassi

Samia Al-Aghbari is one of a number of female journalists and activists who were recently accused of blasphemy by religious fundamentalists. This past week, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate held a press conference to pronounce its opposition to such statements against Alaghbari and to stand behind Yemeni citizens’ rights to freedom of speech.

Alaghbari spoke in Damt on December 31, 2012 on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Yemeni politician and revolutionary Jar Allah Omar’s assassination.

“Politics, religion and tribes are an ugly combination,” Al-Aghbari said in the speech, which was immediately criticized by some of those in attendance, and Islah Party members in particular.

In a discussion at the event which immediately followed her speech, she explained that she opposed the use of religion “to achieve political aims.”

Al-Aghbari said her explanation satisfied those who disagreed with her that day, but added that Ministry of Information official and former Islah Party member Akram Al-Ghwaizi soon filed an official complaint with government officials against Alaghbari, and accused her of insulting Islam.

“As a Muslim and a citizen, I had to do that; she attacked Islam and no one protested,” said Al-Gwaizi.

In response to what was perceived to be a ‘blasphemy campaign’ against Al-Aghbari, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate organized a press conference “as a first step in preventing such behavior against activists and journalists, and women in particular,” said Thuraia Damaj, Coordinator of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate .

A number of people attended the press conference to show support for Al-Aghbari in particular and freedom of speech in general. Lawyer Khalid Al-Salami was among those present.

“Samia is a bold journalist, and has influence on people, so she was targeted and charged with being a disbeliever,” said Al-Salami.

Ishraq Al-Makhdhi, a Change Square activist, argued that such campaigns have nothing to do with religion, but are instead “merely political.”

Al-Aghbari told the National Yemen that accusations that she is a ‘nonbeliever’ are the result of her political beliefs and activities. Because her views don’t conform to theirs, said Al-Aghbari, critics have attempted to smear her reputation, influence her career, and encourage the public to completely dismiss her views and criticisms.

“Whoever stands against them, they will accuse him or her of blasphemy and spoil their careers and reputations, in order to make society react negatively to what journalists and activists write or say,” she said.

In Al-Aghbari’s case, she was not only verbally attacked but also threatened with death. Abdullah Al-Dhmashi, a researcher and member of the Journalists Syndicate, angrily said, “Calling anyone a nonbeliever is dangerous, as it means that he or she may be killed.”

Many female activists, including activists Arwa Othman and Atiaf Al-Wazir, attended the press conference to show support for Al-Aghbari.

Al-Wazir argued, “Such behaviors and ruining of journalists’ and activists’ reputations, and especially women, will continue unless strict rules and procedures to stop these inappropriate actions are put in place.”

Speaking about why women in particular are often the victims of slanderous campaigns, Al-Aghbari said, “There is a systematic campaign against every woman who doesn’t wish to idly subject to others’ thoughts.”

At present, Al-Ghwaizi’s official complaint against Al-Aghbari is active and making its way through the legal system.