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Yemen should investigate journalist's treatment and US missile attack he reported

‘Intense political pressure applied by the USA appeared to be a blatant attempt to override the judicial process in another country’ - Philip Luther

Amnesty is urging the Yemeni authorities to investigate allegations of serious irregularities in the case of the investigative journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’.

Shayi’ - who was set free yesterday following international pressure, though is still subject to a two-year travel ban - was allegedly ill-treated and arbitrarily imprisoned based on his work to reveal the US military’s role in a deadly attack in Yemen in 2009.

Shayi’ was the first Yemeni journalist to allege US involvement in a 2009 missile attack in Yemen’s Abyan area which killed 41 local residents, including 21 Children's rights and 14 women. Shortly after the attack - which used internationally-banned cluster munitions - he wrote articles and spoke to the news channel Al Jazeera and newspapers.

In 2010 Shayi’ was arrested and in early 2011 sentenced to five years in prison for having links to al-Qa’ida, despite a lack of clear evidence of such links. There are 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, said Amnesty, he should be compensated and his two-year travel ban lifted.

Several weeks after his trial, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued an order to free him, but this was not carried out after US President Barack Obama expressed concern over the journalist’s release.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ appeared to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his legitimate work as a journalist.

“Having released him, the Yemeni authorities must now conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the 2009 attack which he helped expose.

“Both the Yemeni and US authorities have some serious questions to answer regarding this case. His allegations of ill-treatment must also be investigated.

“Intense political pressure applied by the USA appeared to be a blatant attempt to override the judicial process in another country.

“We reiterate our calls on the Yemeni and US governments to reveal the truth about the incident that is at the heart of the actions taken against this investigative journalist - namely who was responsible for the deaths of dozens of residents in the cluster bomb attack.”

The Abyan attack in 2009:
The Yemeni government claimed the missile attack targeted a “terrorist training camp” in al-Ma’jala, in southern Yemen’s Abyan area.

A Yemeni parliamentary committee was formed to investigate the incident and this told Amnesty in 2010 that they had found no evidence of such a camp. The committee urged the Yemeni government to open a judicial investigation into the attack and bring those responsible for killings of the “innocent” to justice, but no investigation is known to have been carried out. The government subsequently apologised to the victims’ families, describing the killings as a “mistake” during an operation that was meant to target al-Qa’ida militants.

Amnesty obtained photographs which suggested that the attack used a US-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster munitions, and in May 2010 the organisation wrote to then US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates requesting information about the involvement of US forces. Amnesty has yet to receive a response. A leaked US diplomatic cable later corroborated the finding that the US military carried out the attack.

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