YEMEN: Journalists, advocacy groups denounce conviction of Al Qaeda ‘media advisor’

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A journalist accused of acting as a media advisor to Al Qaeda in Yemen was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday, but colleagues and advocacy groups are calling foul, accusing the government of seeking to suppress press freedoms.

Abdul Elah Haidar Sha’ee, 34, is well known for his coverage of militant Islamist groups, particularly Al Qaeda, scoring exclusive interviews with several high-ranking figures in the movement, including the presumed leader of the local branch of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Naser Abdel-Karim Wahishi, and the American-born cleric Anwar Awlaki.

‘We will work in a number of ways to expose this ruling, and we call on all political parties, civil society and human rights organizations to condemn it and stand behind Al Sha’ee and escalate the demonstrations for his release’ Jamal Anaam, head of the freedoms committee of the Yemeni journalists syndicate, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday (Arabic link).

Sha’ee was arrested in August along with his colleague, 28-year-old Abdul Karim Shami, who received a sentence of two years.


The conviction came just one day after Awlaki was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on charges of inciting murder and belonging to a terrorist group. Wahishi’s whereabouts are unknown, but at least three times he has been reported killed, most recently earlier this month in Pakistan. In addition to allegedly acting as a media strategist for Awlaki and others, Sha’ee is accused of helping Al Qaeda recruit fighters from abroad and of collecting information about state security targets and foreign embassies in Sanaa, according to the English-language daily the Yemen Observer.

The paper also detailed Sha’ee’s refusal to recognize the court or allow any lawyer to defend him. On hearing the verdict, he reportedly told the judge: ‘I am not before a court now to appeal; I’m only in front of a gang who kidnapped me.’

Sha’ee’s lawyer, Abdel Rahman Barman, told Al Jazeera that crucial information was missing from the prosecution’s files, including the name and rank of the chief investigator, which is required by law.

In a statement released on its website, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information also condemned the ruling, calling it ‘a blow to press freedom in Yemen’ and citing the use of a special criminal court for state security, which it said was done to circumvent proper legal procedure.

‘In addition to the the unfair trial, the journalist was illegally detained for a month, tortured, and his email box [was] hacked in an unashamed violation of privacy,’ the statement added.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut