After close to three years in detention and following international and domestic pressure, on July 23, investigative journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ has been set free.
Shayi’ was featured in the recent documentary Dirty Wars, a powerful film co-written and co-produced by Jeremy Scahill, about the U.S. government’s “global war” paradigm used to side-line international human rights law from U.S. counter-terrorism efforts around the world.
Abdul was targeted by both the Yemeni and American governments for telling the truth. He was the first Yemeni journalist to allege U.S. involvement in the missile attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah.
Yemen’s government initially said its forces had acted alone in the attack on al-Ma’jalah – which killed 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women. But shortly afterwards, American media outlets published statements by anonymous U.S. government sources claiming President Obama approved the use of U.S. missiles being fired at two alleged al-Qa’ida sites in Yemen.
In June 2010, Amnesty International released images of a U.S.-manufactured Tomahawk cruise missile that carried cluster sub-munitions, apparently taken near al-Ma’jalah after the December 2009 airstrike. The organization further claimed that such missiles were only known to be held by the U.S. forces at that time and that Yemeni armed forces were unlikely to be capable of using such a missile.
Abdul was targeted by both the Yemeni and American governments for telling the truth.
Abdul was arrested at his home in the Yemeni capital Sana’a in August 2010. On January 18, 2011, he was sentenced to five years in prison and a travel ban for two years following his release for having links to al-Qa’ida – allegations stemming from interviews he conducted with members of the armed group for his journalistic work.
Several weeks after his trial, due to international protests by Amnesty International and other human rights groups, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued an order to free him, but it was not carried out after U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern over the journalist’s release.
At Amnesty International, we documented Abdul’s case and advocated for his release. Amnesty continues to stand with Abdul. Though he has been set free, Abdul is still under a two-year travel ban. Amnesty is now calling for the ban on his freedom of movement to be lifted.
Now that Abdul is released, the Yemeni authorities must investigate allegations of serious irregularities in his case. This includes being convicted despite a lack of clear evidence of his alleged links to al-Qa’ida, being held incommunicado in solitary confinement and allegations that he was ill-treated in detention, resulting in chest injuries and a broken tooth. If his detention is confirmed as having been arbitrary, he should be compensated and his two-year travel ban lifted.
In addition, the Yemeni authorities must now conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the 2009 attack which he helped expose.