The story of Abdalilah Shaya

Sanaa, Yemen's capital
Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Version française de l’article : l’histoire d’Abdalilah Shaya

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Abdalilah Shaya is a journalist in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital. In early January 2009, he is approached by members of the local Al-Qaeda branch, as other reporters were before. Al-Qaeda groups in Arabia had been weakened for years. Their top members had been in Guantánamo and in Yemeni prisons. But since, the organisations’ leaders had either escaped or been set free. The Yemeni Nasir al-Wihayshi and the Saudi Said al-Shihri merged the Yemeni and Saudi affiliates of Al-Qaeda into a new entity: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. They wanted to grant an interview to the press to announce this event.

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Before the interview, Shaya had to send his questions to Al-Qaeda. When everything was ready, he was blindfolded and taken to a safehouse. He was welcomed by Shihri, who put him a suicide vest to try on. After a short while, Shihri took the vest back, and tell the journalist that it was just a joke, even though the suicide vest was a real one. Then, Wihayshi arrived, along with food and drinks to make Shaya comfortable before the interview started.

The tape of the interview was released on the next day by Al-Qaeda, along with a video featuring Wihayshi, Shihri and two other AQAP commanders, Qasim al-Raymi and Muhammad al-Awfi. As the newly elected president Barack Obama was preparing to close Guantánamo, ex-detainees of the infamous prison were free and vowing to kill Americans.

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Two years later, in January 2011, Abdalilah Shaya is convicted of terrorism before the Yemeni court, following this interview. Tribal sheikhs press President Ali Abdullah Saleh to revert the verdict. By the end of the month, the president says he is ready to pardon the journalist.

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A few days later, on February 2, President Obama phones Saleh to talk about the nascent Arab Spring. Two weeks before, the Tunisian President Zine-al-Abidine Ben Ali had fled protests in his country to Saudi Arabia. Demonstrations had also erupted in Egypt a week before, and revolt is quickly spreading throughout the Arab world. Saleh had promised reforms in his country to fend off an upcoming uprising. Obama urges the president to make sure the Yemeni security forces “refrain from violence against Yemeni demonstrators who are exercising their right to free association, assembly, and speech”. Then, moving on to the case of Abdalilah Shaya, Barack Obama “expresse[s] concern over the release” of the journalist.

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The next day, Saleh withdraws his decision to pardon Shaya.

To this date, the journalist still remains in jail.

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Source: “The Last Refuge – Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America’s war in Arabia”,

by Gregory D. Johansen

According to Reporters Without Borders’s Press Freedom Index, in 2011/2012:

.Yemen ranked 171th out of 179, with a score of 101,00 (the lower the better). It was (and is still) one of the world’s worst countries for freedom of the press, then on par with Sudan and Myanmar and worse than Cuba. In 2011/2012, it had fallen lower than it ever was before, mostly because of crackdown on protesters.

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The United States ranked 47th out of 179, with a score of 14,00. Both ranking and score are quite good and indicate no real concern about freedom of the press in this country.

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Picture: http://ko.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-350139897  by Eesti — Creative Commons

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