Critical poet’s tongue sliced off

2011-05-07 17:07

The front page of the newspaper that I’m editing in Yemen will this weekend carry an article and photos of a 23-year-old poet, Walid Mohamed Ahmed al-Ramisi, whose tongue was sliced off on Wednesday.

He was accused of writing ­poems that were critical of a certain political ideology in Yemen. The images and story made my stomach turn.

This incident is indicative of the lack of freedom of ­expression in Yemen. There is no neutral media here, where ­politicised propaganda wars dictate that all media should be inclined to support their ideological allegiances.

The spin-offs are disastrous, as citizens are never informed accurately.

Al-Ramisi was a victim of a system that does not allow ­dissent. Since mid-January, Yemen has been mired in a ­political stalemate.

Its opposition parties, student protesters and all other ­anti-government factions demand the exit of the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled since 1978.

The president also has his supporters who want him to ­remain in office until his elected term ends in 2013.

Anti- and pro-Saleh ­supporters have come out in full force at weekly street protests and ongoing sit-in demonstration sites.

One of al-Ramisi’s poems ­refer to opposition party leaders as “makers of evil” and he also publicly declared that they had “issued a fatwa (Islamic edict) to kill me”.

Al-Ramisi’s brother told local media that he received a phone call telling him that he would be interviewed on national television regarding his poetry.
He was told to meet the ­producers of the television ­programme at a café.

There he was told to get into a car so that they could go to the television studio.

He had no clue that he would be driven to a house and that his tongue would be sliced off.

Two hours later, he was at the Thawra General Hospital in Yemen’s capital city Sana’a, where doctors were unable to re-attach his tongue.

Al-Ramisi later identified his perpetrators as being from the opposition coalition, Joint Meeting Parties, which ­represents six parties in ­Yemen.

The strongest party in this coalition is Islah, which claims to base its guiding ­principles on Islam.

If they cut off a poet’s tongue because he criticised them, then I am not sure what kind of Islam this is.

I was born Muslim and have lived in various Islamic countries. I don’t know this version of Islam.

Yemen’s political situation needs a miracle.

The country is still caught up in a deadlock ­between the government and its opponents who want Saleh to step down. The country’s economy has weakened and its challenges ­increase daily.

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