Catherine Shakdam
Last updated: 16 February, 2012

Yemeni journalist on hunger strike

Human rights activists in Yemen and several other organizations, including Reporters Without Borders (RWB), condemned the decision of a Yemeni Court to sentence Yemeni journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shae to five years of imprisonment and an additional two years of house-arrest, following accusations that he was linked to al-Qaeda.

Despite a presidential pardon issued by President Ali Abdullah Saleh back in February 2011 which should have prompted the journalist immediate release, the United States of America allegedly pressured the Yemeni government into proceeding with the trial since the matter related directly with terrorism charges.

According to RWB, American President Barak Obama have personally contacted the Yemeni government asking that Shae remain in detention as he feared that the journalist would resume his terrorist activities if freed, putting America’s national security at risk.

Shae has claimed his innocence, refuting all affiliations with the terror group.

It all started several years ago, when Abdul Ilah , who at the time was working for the Saba news agency, was asked to concentrate his efforts on covering terrorist activities in the country.  In 2009, the young journalist managed to secure an exclusive interview with late Anwar al-Awlaki, prompting both the Yemeni government and the White House to view him as al-Qaeda’s mouthpiece.

Unitil his assassination last year, Al-Awlaki, a US born cleric, was considered America’s terrorist enemy number one.

During his trial, Shae was accused of bringing people to Yemen in order to help them join Al-Qaeda,  as well as for taking photos of security agency buildings, embassies and western interests to be targeted by Al-Qaeda. Shae refused to attend several of the hearings because he disputed the court’s legality.

Despite calls by several hundred fellow journalists and HOOD, Yemen’s most prominent human rights organization, to release Shae, the Yemeni government has so far turned a deaf ear, refusing to commute the journalist’s sentence or improve the conditions in which he is being held.

Detractors of the regime maintain that Washington is to blame on the matter as it is believed that the Americans are heavily influencing the government into keeping Shae behind bars. RWB actually accused the United States of America of trampling over individual human rights and freedom of expression for the sake of its war on terror, saying that such a violation of one’s inherent right to justice was ‘deplorable”.

With all other legal options closed, Abdul Ilah Haydar Shae decided on February 12thto go on a hunger strike to pressure the authorities into releasing him.

The Yemeni Journalists Union, which condemns the conditions in which Shae is being held, said that the government had refused all visits to Shae, stressing that the journalist’s health was quickly deteriorating and that his life was now in danger.