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Why Did Obama Help Lock Up a Yemeni Journalist?

An intrepid Yemeni journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, is locked up--and the Obama administration holds the key to his freedom.

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Shaye was held in solitary confinement for thirty-four days with no access to a lawyer. His family did not even know where he had been taken or why. Eventually, his lawyers received a tip from a released prisoner that Shaye was in the Political Security prison and they were able to see him. “When Abdulelah was arrested, he was put in a narrow dirty and foul smelling bathroom for five days.I noticed that one of Abdulelah’s teeth was extracted and another one was broken, in addition to presence of some scars on his chest,” recalls Barman. “There were a lot scars on his chest. He was psychologically tortured. He had been told that all his friends and family members had left him and that no one had raised his case. He was tortured by false information.”

 

On September 22, Shaye was eventually hauled into a court. Prosecutors asked for more time to prepare a case against him. A month later, in late October, he was locked in a cage in Yemen’s state security court, which was established by presidential decree and has been roundly denounced as illegal and unfair, as a judge read out a list of charges against him. He was accused of being the “media man” for Al Qaeda, recruiting new operatives for the group and providing Al Qaeda with photos of Yemeni bases and foreign embassies for potential targeting. “The government filed many charges against him,” says Barman. “Some of these charges were: joining an armed group aiming to target the stability and security of the country, inciting Al Qaeda members to assassinate President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son, recruiting new Al Qaeda members, working as propagandist for Al Qaeda and Anwar Al-Awlaki in particular. Most of these charges carry the death sentence under Yemeni law.” As the charges against him were read, according to journalist Iona Craig, a longtime foreign correspondent based in Yemen who reports regularly for the Times of London, Shaye “paced slowly around the white cell, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief.”

When the judge finished reading the charges against him, Shaye stood behind the bars of the holding cell and addressed his fellow journalists. “When they hid murderers of children and women in Abyan, when I revealed the locations and camps of nomads and civilians in Abyan, Shabwa and Arhab when they were going to be hit by cruise missiles, it was on that day they decided to arrest me,” he declared. “You notice in the court how they have turned all of my journalistic contributions into accusations. All of my journalistic contributions and quotations to international reporters and news channels have been turned into accusations.” As security guards dragged him away, Shaye yelled, “Yemen, this is a place where, when a young journalist becomes successful, he is viewed with suspicion.”

In January 2011, Shaye was convicted of terrorism-related charges and sentenced to five years in prison, followed by two years of restricted movement and government surveillance. Throughout his trial, Shaye refused to recognize the legitimacy of the court and refused to present a legal defense. Human Rights Watch said the specialized court where Shaye was tried “failed to meet international standards of due process,” while his lawyers argue that the little “evidence” that was presented against him relied overwhelmingly on fabricated documents. “What happened was a political not judicial decision. It has no legal basis,” says Barman, Shaye’s lawyer, who boycotted the trial. “Having witnessed his trial I can say it was a complete farce,” says Craig.

Several international human rights groups condemned the trial as a sham and an injustice. “There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about US collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

 
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