Pen International welcomes the news that investigative journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaea (or Shaye) was released from jail on Tuesday 23 July 2013. Shaea has spent the last three years in prison in Yemen, charged with having links to Al-Qaeda.
PEN is is also delighted to hear that a court in Belarus overturned a two-year suspended sentence imposed on 67-year-old writer and poet Vladimir Neklyaev (Ulazimir Njakljajeu).
“It’s wonderful news for both men for whom PEN has been campaigning. I’m delighted that Abdulelah Shaea is free at home now, and that Vladimir Neklyaev’s release is now unconditional,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee
Abdulelah Haider Shaea uncovered US involvement in the 17 December 2009 bombing of al Majalah in Yemen which resulted in the deaths of 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women as well as 14 alleged al-Qaeda members, contradicting the Yemeni government’s claim that they had been solely responsible.
Arrested in August 2010, he spent 34 days in solitary confinement during which time he said he was beaten, leading to chest injuries, bruising on his body and a broken tooth. After an unfair trial before the Specialized Criminal Court, he was sentenced in January 2011 to five years’ imprisonment on charges including” communicating with ‘wanted men’, joining a military group and acting as a media consultant to al-Qa’ida’, to be followed by a two-year travel ban.
He refused to appeal against his conviction and sentence, citing concerns about the fairness of proceedings. On 1 February 2011, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued an order to free him, but it was not carried out after US President Barack Obama expressed concern over the journalist’s release.
Following reports of the decision, a letter written by Shaea reading: “The only person responsible for kidnapping and detaining me is Obama" was smuggled from the prison. The letter also read
"I'm eagerly longing to see my mother and family. Still, I have not forgotten my loyal colleagues and friends. Everything you do for my sake makes my solitary confinement tolerable."
Shaea’s release comes after, current president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi announced in May 2013 that he was planning to ensure Shaye’s release. He will not be able to leave the country for two years, as the travel ban is still in place.
PEN International is calling for the travel ban to be lifted, to allow him to exercise his right to freedom of movement as guaranteed by Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Yemen is a state party.
Vladimir Neklyaev, writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Centre and the Tell the Truth party’s candidate in the presidential elections of 2011 was arrested on 19 December that year while on his way to join a peaceful protest against the election result. Severely beaten by security forces, he was taken from hospital and held for a month in the Amerikanka KGB detention centre, where he was tortured and otherwise ill-treated through beatings, being forced to stand in stress positions while naked and threatened with execution. He was also denied adequate medical treatment.
He was charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus ('organization of riots') and in January 2011 he was moved from the detention centre and placed under strict house arrest, with two KGB officers living with him where he was denied access to the telephone, the internet or newspapers. In May 2011, he received a two-year suspended prison term, which was overturned this week.
“ It’s important that the governments of both Yemen and Belarus do not allow impunity to persist for torture or other ill-treatment. They must ensure that all allegations of torture or other ill-treatment are investigated promptly and impartially, with anyone found responsible for abuses brought to justice,” said Fraser.