Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yemen to cartoonist: 'We can squash you'

Exposing crimes of Yemen's president and the US military is a dangerous game, one cartoonist learns.

Nir Rosen

"As the Yemeni standoff continues, dictatorial president Ali Abdallah Saleh stubbornly clings to the seat of power.

If indeed the country descends into civil war it will be among the elites competing for power rather than the people against the government, though civil war is not inevitable. As in Egypt, the Yemeni regime is more complicated than just Saleh himself. It is a vast security apparatus linked to a small clique which controls the country's economy. They are equally implicated in Saleh's crimes, even if it often appears that Saleh is the state.

Few people know this better than Kamal Sharaf, a freelance cartoonist.

Sharaf's cartoons about Yemen and other Arab struggles in countries like Palestine were published in newspapers and on websites. He often mocked President Saleh and consequently received emails warning that he would regret it. "Don't step on people who are above you," said one email.

In August 2010, Kamal was at home breaking the Ramadan fast when "special forces surrounded the house like American marines," he recalls. "They had lasers on their guns. It smelled like America. Even their bodies were different from Yemeni soldiers."

One of the soldiers shouted: "Kamal come down or we will break the house." Kamal and his brothers went out.

A police officer told him there was a warrant for his arrest and he would find out what the charges were later.....

Cartoonist to al-Qaeda 'terrorist'?

He was eventually interrogated with the blindfold still on by what he guessed were seven people. The interrogation lasted until dawn. They asked about his charicatures of the president and about his relationship with another journalist called Abdelillah Shay'a who specialised in Islamist movements.

Kamal was accused of working for al-Qaeda's media wing along with Abdelillah, as well as with the Zeydi Shia rebels in the north called the Houthis.

The Houthi website, Ansar Allah, had copied some of Kamal's cartoons which criticised the Yemeni regime's policy and attacks by Saudi forces which killed Yemeni civilians. Becuase of that, Kamal was accused of running the website. While some interrogators were polite, others began to raise their voices and threaten him.

"We can squash you with our feet," they warned, telling him "you are less than a bug."....

Kamal was asked to sign a statement saying that he would never draw President Saleh again on the basis that mocking the president is mocking the nation....

During this time, his old friend and neighbour, Abdelillah, remained in prison....

"We didn't agree that you would talk on satellite channels about what happened to you," he was told.

Before his July arrest, Abdelillah had been threatened on Facebook. Messages warned that he and his children would be hurt because of the interviews he gave to Al Jazeera and other satellite channels about Islamist groups.

On BBC and Al Jazeera, Abdelillah complained that American missile strikes in southern Yemen had killed civilians.....

US interests behind the arrest?

In February, it was widely claimed that President Saleh had tried to order his release but that the American government had asked the Yemenis to prevent that. Abdelqudus was very concerned about his brother's mental and physical state....

Barman believed that it was Abdelillah's reporting and analysis which led to his arrest. He had also been communicating with American media about the massacre of Yemeni civilians in American airstrikes.

"Abdelillah was the first person to talk about it and he spoke about the killing of 45 civilians - including women and children. He produced the names and ages of children, he talked about a father and mother and five children who were murdered. He exposed the Yemeni and American government.""

No comments: