Yemeni president pardons reporter Obama wanted kept in jail

Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, whom President Barack Obama once personally lobbied to have remain in jail, has been pardoned and released, fulfilling a months-old pledge from Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

It was unclear whether Hadi had told American authorities in advance when Shaye would be released, but the White House said in an email Wednesday that it was “concerned and disappointed” by his release before the expiration of his five-year prison term for associating with al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Shaye’s ability to gain access to high-ranking, deeply reclusive al Qaida-linked figures earned him international attention, allowing him to report for a number of Western news outlets. But he earned the ire of U.S. and Yemeni authorities for his reporting that revealed that a December 2009 bombing in the village of Majalla in the southern province of Abyan was an American cruise-missile attack that killed dozens of civilians, including 14 women and 21 children,rather than a Yemeni airstrike on an al Qaida training camp, as originally claimed.

After those reports, he was arrested in 2010 and held for more than a month without seeing an attorney. A Yemeni court found Shaye guilty in 2011 of assisting al Qaida, and sentenced him to five years in jail after a trial that international human rights groups described as a sham.

The charges against Shaye provoked immediate controversy and were sharply condemned by local and international press freedom organizations, who cast his arrest as politically motivated. In a statement last August, the human rights group Amnesty International called Shaye’s detention “arbitrary” and urged that “the conviction be set aside and he should be released.”

Political pressure from activists and tribal leaders initially pushed Yemen’s then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, toward pardoning Shaye. But the opposition of the Obama administration convinced Saleh to abandon the plans. In February 2011, Obama personally raised the issue with Saleh in a phone call that the White House acknowledged in a statement. “President Obama expressed concern over the release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP,” said the Feb. 2, 2011, statement, using an alternate spelling of Shaye’s name.

Hadi had said he planned to secure Shaye’s release, telling a group of journalists at a meeting with United Nations officials May 6 that he’d be released soon. But Yemeni officials said later that the release was delayed after U.S. officials objected.

As a condition of his release, Shaye will be prohibited from leaving Sanaa for two years. Nevertheless, many Yemeni journalists and local press freedom organizations responded to the news with jubilance, hailing Hadi’s actions and celebrating Shaye’s freedom.

Shaye’s release “is a victory for common values of media freedom, justice and human rights,” said a statement from the Freedom Foundation, a Sanaa-based press freedom organization headed by Yemeni journalist Khaled al Hammadi. “Especially since President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ordered the release of Shaye despite all the American pressures on him to keep him in prison.”


State to court: IDF to halt use of phosphorous shells

In response to petition filed by human rights group, army says will use incendiary munitions in urban areas only in ‘extreme cases.’ Yesh Gvul: IDF’s position proves use of phosphorous shells during 2009 Gaza op was ‘illegal, immoral’

The IDF will refrain from using white phosphorous shells in populated areas, the State informed the High Court of Justice on Monday in response to a petition filed by human rights groups asking to ban the incendiary munitions.However, the army said it would continue to use the shells in two exceptional cases, which were specified to the court behind closed doors.

The white phosphorous shells were first used by the IDF to create smokescreens during its 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza. The use of the weapon drew harsh international criticism, and was mentioned in the Goldstone Report. In March 2011 human rights group Yesh Gvul petitioned the court demanding it ban the use of such shells for smoke-screening purposes in civilian areas.Palestinian organizations and other human rights groups also criticized the IDF’s use of white phosphorous shells. In November 2011 the State responded to the petition, saying that while the laws of war allow the use of white phosphorous shells for smoke-screening purposes in urban areas, Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh, who served as deputy chief of staff at the time, ordered a significant reduction in the use of artillery shells containing white phosphorus.

While legal when fired to mask troop movements on battlefields, white phosphorus poses a fire risk.

During the Gaza fighting, Israel said troops fired mortar rounds with white phosphorus warheads to clear brush around trenches used by Palestinian terrorists.

During Monday’s hearing, the petitioners said they were not satisfied with the State’s response, stressing the need for a full ban on the weapon. However, the petitioners agreed to allow the State’s representatives to specify to the judges, behind closed doors, the cases in which white phosphorous shells would be used. The judges asked the petitioners to withdraw their appeal, saying the cases in which white phosphorous shells would be used were in fact “unusual and extreme.”


Hillary Clinton fears efforts to ‘re-Sovietize’ in Europe


Associated Press
DUBLIN (AP)  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Thursday about a new effort by oppressive governments to “re-Sovietize” much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, taking particular aim at Russia for its crackdown on democracy and human rights groups just hours ahead of critical talks with that country’s foreign ministerClinton’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will focus on the violence in Syria. They’ll be joined in Ireland’s capital by the U.N. mediator for the Arab country, Lakhdar Brahimi, in a three-way attempt to breathe new life into diplomatic efforts to stem the violence.  . However, speaking to a group of lawyers and civil society advocates on the sidelines of an international human rights conference, Clinton took aim at what she described as a new wave of repressive tactics and laws aimed at criminalizing U.S. outreach efforts. The trends are indicative of a larger reversal of freedoms for citizens of Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan and other countries that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago.   “There is a move to re-Sovietize the region,” Clinton lamented.   “It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that,” she said, referring to Russian-led efforts for greater regional integration. “But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.” In a windswept tent outside the Dublin conference center hosting the annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Clinton heard tales of struggle from 11 human rights advocates.   Andrey Aranbaev, an environmentalist from Turkmenistan, accused Western nations of forsaking his compatriots. “My country Turkmenistan is world-famous for two things: one of the largest gas supplies and gross human rights violations,” he said through an interpreter. “Almost all international actors are talking about Turkmenistan’s gas. But almost no one is talking about the gross human rights violations.” “Human rights and democracy in Turkmenistan was sold for gas,” Aranbaev added. Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network said Russian authorities were trying to prohibit even the discussion of discrimination based on sexual orientation. And Olga Zakharova, a journalist with Freedom Files in Russia, said even use of social media was becoming more restrictive. Clinton said she understood the complaints many of them lodged. “We agree with your assessment that the space for civil society and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is shrinking, and governments are becoming much more aggressive in trying to stifle dissent, prevent the free expression and exchange of views,” she said. “It’s distressing that 20 years into the post-Soviet era … so many of the hoped-for indicators of progress are retreating,” Clinton said. “And the impact on individuals and organizations is becoming more oppressive.” Clinton said there is a concerted effort to eliminate both American and international assistance for human rights advocates. “We are trying to fight that, but it is very difficult,” she said. “We will have to come up with new ways to support you, since everything we have been doing in some places, most notably Russia, is being criminalized. And the impact is not so great on us, but it’s terrible on you.” The problem is compounded by America’s limited influence with some governments, she added. In Belarus, “we have struck out so far,” Clinton said. Ukraine, she said, is “one of our biggest disappointments.”And in Turkmenistan, the U.S. raises human rights issues all the time. “We get no response,” she said.  Speaking later to the 57-nation OSCE, Clinton offered more muted criticism of Russia. She reiterated concerns about a new Russian law that requires organizations and journalists receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” a move the U.S. believes is designed to stifle internal criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s government. His foreign minister, Lavrov, was in attendance. Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik contributed to this report.