Jailed Yemeni journalist receives Human Rights Defenders award

Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who shed light on US drones in Yemen, is not permited to attend ceremony to receive award

When Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye receives a coveted Human Rights Defenders award in Geneva , his role as a fearless chronicler of his country's US-led drone war will have come full circle.

Accused by Washington of terrorism, jailed in his homeland for subversion and under intense state scrutiny since being released from prison in July this year, Shaye remains a difficult man to cast for his accusers.

His work in Yemen placed him amid two protagonists, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) and the US military, which for the past three years has intensified its use of unmanned drones to target those it claims are the group's cadres and leaders.

Shaye came to prominence when he personally picked through fragments from one such strike, in Majala, establishing that US missiles – not the Yemeni military – had been responsible for the deaths of 41 people, 21 of them reportedly children and another 14 women.

He distributed damning photos to international media, which embarrassed Washington and Sana'a, both of which until that point had been determined to cast the frequent attacks as a home-grown assault, in which the US military had played no direct role. Shaye's coverage shed more light than any other individual on the scope of the US drone warfare programme and kept him in the cross hairs of both governments.

Ever since, Shaye's work had become increasingly fraught. From around 2009, he had won access to al-Qaida leaders, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the American jihadist killed by a drone attack in September 2011. Shaye was the last reporter to speak to Awlaki before he was killed.

His interviews with al-Qaida, won partly because of a family link through marriage to a radical cleric, had angered the US, which had depicted him as a member of al-Qaida's media arm, not as an independent reporter. By January 2011, he was facing five years in prison on terror charges, including a claim that he had incited al-Qaida members to kill Yemen's then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In February 2011, it is understood that Barack Obama personally expressed concern about Shaye's release – he had by then been imprisoned – during a phone call to Saleh, who was preparing to pardon him.

Shaye remained in prison until July this year. Since his release, he has been under the scrutiny of the country's security services. To this day, some US officials insist that Shaye is an al-Qaida loyalist. His colleagues in Sana'a say he is being prevented from talking publicly ahead of receiving the Alkarama Human Rights Defenders award, which he was not permitted to attend. The award will instead be received on his behalf by two supporters.

When Shaye was convicted, he said from the dock: "You notice in the court how they have turned all of my journalistic contributions into accusations. All of my journalistic contributions and quotations to international reporters and news channels have been turned into accusations." He added: "Yemen, this is a place where, when a young journalist becomes successful, he is viewed with suspicion."


Martin Chulov

The GuardianTramp

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