February 2, 2011

His Excellency General ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh

Office of the President
Republic of Yemen
Fax: + 967 127 4147

Mutaher Rashad al Masri
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
Republic of Yemen
Fax: + 967 1 332 511

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the sentencing of journalist Abdulaelah Haider Shaea.

According to our information, on January 17, 2011, Abdulaelah Haider Shaea was sentenced by the state security Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Sana’a to five years in prison for his alleged connection with Al-Qaeda, although no evidence was presented to support this accusation and it is believed that he is being targeted for his journalistic work. Shaea has stated that he will not appeal against the sentence because he does not recognize the legitimacy of the SCC court.

According to his lawyer, who was allowed to meet with him only once, Shaea is in very poor health; he suffers from anemia for which he is not currently receiving any medical treatment. The lawyer reports that Shaea was tortured and ill-treated during his interrogation and that during his hearing extensive bruising was visible on his body. He was also reportedly subjected to long hours of harsh interrogation during which he lost consciousness on more than one occasion.

Shaea was arrested at his home on August 16, 2010, by anti-terror police who reportedly beat him in front of his family and neighbors. Police also searched his home and confiscated his personal computer and notebook. He was held incommunicado in the political security prison in Sana’a for 29 days before his first hearing on September 16, 2010. On September 22, the Specialized Criminal Court extended his detention for an additional 30 days to complete the investigation.

This is the second time Shaea has been detained in the past year. On July 11, 2010, he was abducted by men who reportedly identified themselves as government agents. He was blindfolded and led to a basement in an unknown location where he was interrogated for several hours about his friends and on his reporting on Al-Qaeda. It is believed that Shaea might be targeted because of interviews he gave to U.S.-based media.    

We understand that several newspapers in Yemen have been closed down or suspended and that many journalists have been arbitrarily detained for their coverage of sensitive issues, including Al-Qaeda’s activities in the south and the Sa’ada insurgency in the north. Many detainees are taken before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) which follows the regular Code of Criminal Procedures; however its proceedings reportedly fall short of international fair trial standards.

We are seriously concerned that the arrest and sentencing of Abdulaelah Haider Shaea is part of a larger attempt by authorities to crack down on freedom of expression in Yemen in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Yemen is a signatory. We therefore call for Shaea’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all others held in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                                              
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee           
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Minister of Human Rights
Houda ‘Ali ‘Abdullatif al-Baan
Ministry for Human Rights
Republic of Yemen
Fax: + 967 1 444 833

H.E. Abdulwahab Abdulla Al-Hajjri
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen
2319 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 337-2017

>> Back to Rapid Action