SANAA (Reuters) - A Yemeni journalist and expert on al Qaeda was sentenced to five years in prison on Tuesday after being convicted of aiding the global militant group and its leaders in Yemen.
Yemen is under international pressure to quash a resurgent al Qaeda wing in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, at the same time as it struggles to repress southern secessionists and cement a fragile truce with rebels in the north.
Freelance journalist Abdulelah Shai, speaking from behind the bars of a cell inside the Sanaa court building, told reporters he had only been doing journalistic work and denied being an al Qaeda supporter.
“This is fabrication by the authorities that is unfounded and untrue,” he said.
Shai, 34, has made numerous appearances in international media as an al Qaeda analyst and is often described as having a close relationship with the group.
In early 2009, Shai interviewed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim preacher on the run and sought by Washington. The footage was broadcast by the pan Arab television station Al Jazeera.
The judge in Shai’s case said evidence presented to him proved Shai’s involvement with the group.
“He supported al Qaeda and its leaders in Yemen as a journalist, publishing false news and statements in the media on the security situation in Yemen,” the judge said. “He attracted foreigners (to al Qaeda) and gathered information on embassies and security installations to help al Qaeda.”
Shai’s original charges included having links to Awlaki, but these appear to have been dropped, as they were not mentioned in his sentencing on Tuesday.
Awlaki is believed to be hiding in southern Yemen, where the government faces al Qaeda militants and armed separatist rebels.
The court also ordered that Shai be put under police surveillance for two years after his release from prison.
The Yemeni journalist said he would not appeal against the court decision since he did not feel such an appeal would be handled fairly.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Ralph Boulton