* Yemen court sentences eight rebels to death
* Two journalists sentenced for defaming president
(Adds journalists’ trial)
SANAA, Oct 31 (Reuters) - A Yemeni court on Saturday sentenced to death eight men involved in a Shi’ite rebellion, who were arrested last year for fighting government troops north of the country’s capital.
A Yemeni court on Saturday also handed out jail sentences and writing bans to two journalists for defaming the president.
Seven rebels received prison sentences of 12 years, three three-year sentences, one an eight-year sentence and one a five-year sentence. Two were found not-guilty.
The Houthi rebels were arrested last year for fighting troops for around a month at Bani Husheish, 30 km (19 miles) north of Sanaa.
Houthi rebels first took up arms against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule in 2004, citing political, economic and religious marginalisation by the Saudi- and Western-backed government.
But the conflict intensified in August when the army unleashed Operation Scorched Earth. Aid groups, who have been given limited access to the northern provinces, say up to 150,000 people have fled their homes since 2004.
On Tuesday the court, in a separate trial, sentenced to death four men, while 11 were jailed for up to 15 years and one was released after having served his sentence. [ID:nLR30964]
On Monday, a court opened proceedings in absentia against Yahya al-Houthi, the brother of the rebels’ leader, who is now based in Germany.
Veteran ruler Saleh also faces a separatist movement in the south and top oil exporter Saudi Arabia fears the instability will help al Qaeda launch more attacks there.
In the journalists’ case, Samir Jubran, editor-in-chief of weekly newspaper al-Masdar, was given a one-year’s suspended prison sentence and was banned from writing for one year.
The second journalist, Mounir al-Mawri, who also works for the paper and was the author of the defamatory article published in May, was sentenced in absentia and given a two-year prison sentence and banned from writing for life.
Al-Mawri, who lives in the United States, is a well-known critic of the government, and in his article targeted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
According to Yemeni press law, not only the author but also editors-in-chief, are held responsible for defamatory articles. The trial began in September. (Reporting by Mohamed Sudam, Writing by Jason Benham)