A special lady
Yemenis are deeply shocked by the kidnapping of Judith Spiegel and her partner. Despite the relatively short period she had spent in Yemen, Spiegel, also a professor at the Lebanese University in Sana’a, had managed to forge many and diverse links within Yemeni society. The Yemeni journalist Jamal Jubran sums up how many Yemenis feel about Judith:
“What is special about this lady is that she went everywhere in the capital Sana’a. There are unsafe areas for foreigners in the city where they could be subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Despite this, Spiegel was always seen wandering in local souks, or attending weddings. She even met revolutionary youths in Taghyeer Square”.
“ Social relationships in Yemen go deeper and stronger than work relationships. My relationship with Judith extended outside our work environment. I used to invite her to dinner at my house after work and she met my wife and children who enjoyed her company and appreciated her love of Yemen. This helped Judith to experience the Yemeni society closely,” he added.
It’s now more than two weeks since the release of the only video of kidnapped Dutch journalist Judith Spiegel and her partner Boudewijn Berendsen. Judith, who works regularly for RNW, was abducted together with her husband in mid-June.
In the dramatic video, the exhausted-looking couple made an emotional appeal for action to secure their freedom, saying their captors had issued a ten-day ultimatum. Since then there has been no word, but appeals from Yemeni citizens for the couple’s release are growing ever stronger.
Free speech champion
The Yemeni journalist Abdel Elah Shaye has now also declared his support for the couple. Mr Shaye was released from prison after being held for almost three years following the publication of his reports about civilian victims of US drone strikes in South Yemen.
Many consider Shaye a champion of free speech and see him as a man who was wrongly jailed for daring to report on the controversial strikes. He was convicted on ‘terrorism’ charges in what respected human rights organisations labelled a sham trial. He was due to be released after an outcry over the charges in Yemen, but then, in February 2011, US president Obama intervened and expressed his ‘concern’ about this possibility. This resulted in the extended jail time. The case attracted media attention around the globe.
In a speech to celebrate his release (albeit into house arrest), Shaye pledged to join the campaign to free fellow journalist Judith Spiegel, saying he knew how it felt to be deprived of freedom.
The journalist is not the only high profile Yemeni figure to call for the Dutch couple’s freedom – Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakul Karman earlier voiced her disgust at the kidnapping. She called Judith and Boudewijn ‘lovers of Yemen’ and said the kidnapping was hugely damaging for Yemen’s reputation.
A broad campaign coalition of Yemeni journalist organisations and human rights groups is also actively campaigning for the couple’s release.