PEN International protests the five-year prison sentence handed down to journalist Abdulaelah Haider Shaea on January 17, 2011, for his coverage of Islamist groups in the Arabian peninsula. PEN believes that he has been sentenced solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Yemen is a party, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Background Information

According to PEN's information, Shaea was sentenced on January 17, 2011, by the state security Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Sana’a for his alleged connection with Al-Qaeda, although there is no evidence to support the charges against him. It is widely believed that Shaea has been sentenced 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.

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.

According to his lawyer, who was allowed to meet him only once, Shaea is in very bad 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 during his hearing extensive bruising was reportedly evident on his body. It is also reported that he was subjected to long hours of harsh interrogation during which he lost consciousness at times.

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. Another journalist, Kamal Sharaf, who was arrested alongside Shaea and released after 23 days, reports that Shaea might be targeted for interviews he gave to U.S.-based media.     

Freedom of expression is highly restricted in Yemen and PEN has long been concerned about the number of journalists detained or threatened for their legitimate reporting on political issues. Several newspapers have been closed down or suspended and 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 was established in 1999 to try the crime of hiraba (a Shari’a term referring to offenses such as occupation of public land, theft of means of transport and aggression against officials). In 2004 the government expanded its mandate, giving it jurisdiction to try people accused of vaguely worded state security offenses. The court follows the regular Code of Criminal Procedures, but its proceedings generally are reported to fall short of international fair trial standards.

Write A Letter

  • Condemning the harsh prison sentence handed down to writer, journalist, and lawyer Abdulaelah Haider Shaea solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to free expression;
  • Calling for his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Yemen is a signatory;
  • Ensuring that he has full access to family visits and any necessary medical care while detained;
  • Seeking assurances of his well-being in detention.

Send Your Letter To

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

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

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representatives for Yemen in your country if possible. 

Please contact this office if sending appeals after February 15, 2011: ftw [at]