Yemen's transitional government is signaling that it may
release Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who was arrested
in August 2010 and who U.S. intelligence
officials believe supported al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2011 in
a trial that drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty
International, and human rights and journalist advocacy organizations have
since campaigned for his release.
In a meeting with U.N. officials on Monday, Yemeni President
Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi told reporters that he has made plans to release Shaye, Yemen's al-Masdar reports. Al Jazeera bureau
chief Saeed Thabit Saeed, who attended the meeting, wrote
on Facebook, "We received a serious promise from [Hadi] that our colleague Abdulelah
Shaye will be released," and Times
of London correspondent Iona Craig confirmed
with Hadi's office that there "is an order from the president to release Shaye
This is not the first time that Shaye's release has been
considered. In fact, soon after his 2011 trial, Shaye's release
seemed imminent. "We were waiting for the release of the pardon -- it was
printed out and prepared in a file for the president to sign and announce the
next day," Shaye's lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, told Jeremy
Scahill in his new book, Dirty Wars: The
World Is a Battlefield. But that plan fell through after a Feb. 2 phone call
between then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Barack Obama, in which Obama "expressed
concern over the release of [Shaye], who had been sentenced to five years in
prison for his association with AQAP," according to a readout
of the call released by the White House.
The White House's position hasn't changed in the ensuing two
years. "We remain concerned about al-Shai's potential early release due to his
association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin
Hayden told FP by email on Wednesday.
Nor, for that matter, is Shaye's release certain. Mohammed al-Basha, a
spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, walked back reports of the journalist's imminent release, telling FP that President Hadi had only agreed to consider ending Shaye's detention.
Shaye's investigative work drew international attention in
2009 when he reported that the United States had conducted an airstrike
that killed 41 civilians in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla, and managed to
interview New Mexico-born AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on multiple occasions.
July 2010, the Yemeni government arrested and beat Shaye, and interrogators told him, "We will destroy your life if you keep on talking," according to Scahill's account. Shaye was arrested a month later, beaten again, held in solitary confinement for 34 days without access
to a lawyer, and then rushed through a trial on charges that included
recruiting and propagandizing for AQAP and encouraging the assassination of
President Saleh and his son. By the time Obama intervened in Shaye's
pardon in 2011, protesters had begun filling city streets calling for
the end of Saleh's three-decade presidency; Saleh resigned in November 2011,
and since then his vice president, Hadi, has governed as part of what is slated to be a
two-year period of reform and transition.
The U.S. government's case against Shaye is unclear. U.S.
Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told
Craig in February 2012 that "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating al Qaeda
and its planning for attacks on Americans," but did not elaborate. Before Shaye's
arrest, an U.S. intelligence official, who told Scahill that he "was persuaded that
[Shaye] was an agent," discouraged journalists from working with Shaye on
account of "'classified evidence' indicat[ing] that Shaye was 'cooperating'
with al Qaeda."
Since his imprisonment, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty
International, the International
Federation of Journalists, the Committee
to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom
Foundation have campaigned for Shaye's release, and last November Yemeni
Justice Minister Murshid al-Arashani publicly
demanded that Hadi issue a pardon. Though it appears the Yemeni president may be
preparing to meet that request, Shaye's family remains doubtful. "It's like the
same as previous promises," Shaye's brother Khaled told
Craig. "So far this is the fourth time Hadi has made this promise."
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images