A Yemeni journalist jailed for his purported links to al-Qa’ida appears to have been targeted for his work uncovering information on US complicity in attacks in the country, Amnesty International has said.
‘Abdul Ilah Shayi’, who claimed that the USA was involved in a deadly attack on an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp, was yesterday sentenced to five years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital Sana’a.
His lawyers and activists in Yemen say the charges against him were fabricated as a result of his outspoken journalism.
“There are strong indications that the charges against ‘Abdul Ilah Shayi’ 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.
“If this is the case, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
Shayi’ was convicted on several charges including communicating with “wanted men”, joining a military group and acting as a media consultant to al-Qa’ida. After serving his five-year jail term, he will be banned from travel for two further years. His acquaintance, ‘Abdul Kareem al-Shami, was jailed for two years on similar charges.
However, Shayi’s lawyers say the prosecution submitted no evidence that the journalist had worked with or supported al-Qa’ida, and that Shayi’ was carrying out his legitimate journalistic work.
Shayi’ was the first Yemeni journalist to allege US involvement in an attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah in the Abyan area, southern Yemen, which took place on 17 December 2009.
He wrote articles and gave an interview to news channel Al Jazeera and newspapers shortly after the attack, which killed 55 people including 14 alleged members of al-Qa’ida.
He was arrested on 16 August 2010 from his house in Sana’a by Yemeni security forces.
Shayi’ will not appeal against the sentence due to his reservations about the fairness of his trial at the Specialized Criminal Court, which has likewise been boycotted by his lawyers.
“The Yemeni authorities must stop targeting journalists and must reverse the pattern of cracking down on dissenters,” said Philip Luther.
Yemen's government has said its forces alone carried out the attack on al-Ma’jalah, the site of an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp in al-Mahfad district, Abyan.
Shortly after the attack, some US media reported alleged statements by unnamed US government sources who said that US cruise missiles launched on presidential orders had been fired at two alleged al-Qa’ida sites in Yemen.
In June 2010, Amnesty International released images of a US-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster munitions, apparently taken following the al-Ma’jalah attack.
A diplomatic cable leaked by the organization Wikileaks in November 2010 corroborated the images that had been released by Amnesty International, and the organization’s finding that the US forces carried out the attack.