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Five Year Sentence for Yemeni Journalist who Reported on U.S. Missile Strike

Abdul Ilah Shayi, a Yemeni journalist, has been sentenced to five years imprisonment after reporting on a 2009 American cruise missile strike against suspected al-Qaeda terrorists  that killed 52 people, 41 of them innocent civilians.

Shayi was arrested last August and charged with communicating with wanted men, joining a military group and acting as a media consultant to al-Qaeda. His lawyers, human rights watchdog Amnesty International, and others believe that he is being targeted for revealing that the missile strike was of American origin and not carried out by Yemeni forces, as that country’s government claims. Shayi was tried before Yemen’s Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a, the capital.

The prosecution produced no evidence that Shayi worked with or supported al-Qaeda in any way. His lawyers argued that any contact he had with militants was a result of legitimate journalistic work.  Nevertheless, he was found guilty and will serve five years behind bars.

Shayi was the first Yemeni journalist to allege American involvement in the missile attack, which occurred in al-Ma’jalah in southern Yemen on December 17, 2009. The attack killed 21 children and 14 women along with 14 alleged al-Qaeda militants. Cruise missile parts and cluster bomblets, weapons commonly used by the United States but absent from the Yemeni arsenal, were found at the site. American responsibility was further confirmed by US diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle blower website Wikileaks.

Just after the attack, some US media outlets also reported that the US had launched cruise missiles on orders from President Barack Obama. Still, Yemen’s government, a close US ally in the War on Terror, claims its forces alone are responsible for the deadly attack. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Yemen and met with President  Abdullah Saleh last week. The timing of the court’s decision in the Shayi case has raised eyebrows and criticism in Yemen and elsewhere.

Shayi wrote articles and appeared on the Arabic satellite news channel al-Jazeera to discuss the US attack. This was very likely the reason he has been persecuted. “The Yemeni government must stop targeting journalists and must reverse the pattern of cracking down on dissenters,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa said. “There are strong indications that the charges against him were fabricated as a result of his outspoken journalism.”

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