SANA’A Aug 9 — One year has passed since journalist Abdulelah Shayi’ was detained by political security forces on August 12, 2010. Shayi’, who is accused of being the “media man” for Al-Qaeda in Yemen, is serving a sentence of five years in prison for allegedly collaborating with the global militant group and its leaders in Yemen. The journalist’s arrest followed al-Jazeera’s publication of his 2009 interview with Yemeni-American cleric Anwer al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki tops the U.S. list of terrorist threats.
Abdulelah Shayi’, 34, worked for the state-run Saba news agency when he was detained. He was found guilty of “participating in an armed gang, having links with Al-Qaeda and for taking photographs of Yemen security bases and foreign embassies to be targeted by the terrorist organization,” said
On the first memorial of his detention, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate organized a summit to discuss his situation. They also planned a silent march to Change Square in Sana’a, where anti-government protests have taken place since February. But the march didn’t happen due to heavy rain.
Sheyi’’s trial lasted for six months before the courts announced a verdict. The long duration prompted many human rights activists to claim that he did not receive a fair trial. The human rights groups were happy to receive news that President Ali Abdullah Saleh intended to pardon Shayi’, although, they emphasize, the pardon has not been confirmed.
“The pardon wasn’t signed officially or maybe it was but it wasn’t announced officially, as the American pressure stopped Saleh from making it,” said Shayi’s voluntary lawyer, Abdul Rahman Barman.
Once the news of the presidential pardon was out, President Saleh received a call from the US President Barack Obama who expressed his concerns about releasing a journalist with links to Al-Qaeda, the White House website reported. The pardon procedures have since stopped.
Shayi’ continues to receive his main salary from the state, but his monthly bonus has been cut.
There is a widespread belief in Yemen that the U.S. was behind Shayi’’s detainment, as he was the first local journalist to investigate the al-Ma’jala’s massacre, in which U.S. airstrikes killed 52 Yemeni civilians.
An alliance of 12 human rights organizations and three human rights activists was founded under the name of “The Sixth of Ramadan Alliance” to advocate for the release of Shayi’ and Kamal Sharaf, another journalist. According to Fatima Al-Aghbary, a member of the group, the Alliance has performed weakly since Shayi’’s verdict emerged.
Security authorities have not allowed anyone but Shayi’s family to visit him in prison, and there have been no definitive statements about his health condition, according to his voluntary lawyer Abdul Rahman Barman. Barman never stood to defend Shayi’ in the hearing sessions, because of Shayi’’s persistent rejection of the trial. Throughout the proceedings he demanded that the court bring the political security agents who “kidnapped him for 35 days before the trial had started”. He also demanded the return of the belongings that were “stolen” by his “kidnappers”, including his laptop, from which most of the trial’s evidence was taken.
Most of the evidence in the trial consisted of electronic documents located on Shayi’s desktop, alleged to be letters between Shayi’ and al-Awlaki. This fact leads Barman to think that much of this evidence was fabricated after the laptop was confiscated.
“I requested a visit last week considering all the legal procedures for such a visit but the authorities rejected it justifying that the responsible employee was not there. That’s never the case. Anyone in the Interior Ministry should take the request by fax and reply later but this time they rejected it with no good reasons,” said Barman.
His family is allowed to visit him only once every week, but recently they were barred from seeing him for a month without any clarification.
“Even when we are allowed to visit they [the political security] treat us badly’ said his elder brother, Khalid Shayi’. “They prevent us from bringing him food or books, they keep us waiting for hours and once we meet they call him after around five minutes.”
He added that Shayi’ hasn’t complained of physical torture but that the political security for sure expose him to continuous psychological torture. Shayi’ suffers arthritis pain and has some respiratory problems. “We tried to bring him some honey for treatment but even that they didn’t allow,” said Khalid.
During the trial, he used to stand smiling behind the bars. His family reports he still has the same smile no matter what he is suffering from.