SANA'A // A Yemeni judge convicted a journalist yesterday of aiding al Qa'eda and sentenced him to five years in jail and two years of house arrest after that.
Judge Ridwan al Namer said that prosecutors proved to the court, which specialises in terror cases, that freelance journalist Abdulelah Haidar Shai, 34, helped recruit foreigners for al Qa'eda in Yemen and provided photos and information about embassies and and security installations and incited al Qa'eda to attack them.
"He used his work as a journalist to publicise the views of al Qa'eda… This is not journalism," Mr al Namer said.
The judge also sentenced co-defendant Abdul Karim al Shami to two years in jail for belonging to an armed gang and for receiving coded e-mails from al Qa'eda and forwarding them to militants.
The court also ordered a two-year travel ban on the men after they serve their terms.
Haidar was arrested on August 16 after numerous appearances in Arab and international media as an expert on al Qa'eda and terrorism.
Speaking from behind the bars of a cell inside the Sana'a court building, he told reporters he had been doing journalism and denied being an al Qa'eda supporter.
"I am not before a court but the national security [intelligence agency]," Haidar shouted upon hearing the verdict. "This is a plot."
Haidar, who works for the state-run Saba news agency, and al Shami stood trial in October. They were accused of "belonging to an illegal network" and "supporting the al Qa'eda network" from 2008 to 2010.
Prosecutors said that Haidar worked as a press secretary to the radical US-born cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who was sentenced in his absence on Monday to 10 years in jail for inciting the killing of foreigners in Yemen. Haidar has often been described as having a close relationship with the cleric's group.
In early 2009, he interviewed al Awlaki. The interview was broadcast by Al Jazeera.
Haidar told the court on December 29 that the evidence against him was no more than reporting published on local and international media outlets as well as unpublished materials that are to be used for a documentary for Al Jazeera.
Haidar said the documentary was to be on security in Yemen and on how the Yemen government uses al Qa'eda to blackmail Gulf states, the US and the West for more money.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the verdict and sentence.
"The Yemeni authorities have used the pretext of combating terrorism to convict a journalist who is an expert on issues related to al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula and whose reporting tended to question the government's security policies," Reporters Without Borders said.
Marwan Damaj, the secretary general of the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate, a non-governmental organisation, condemned the verdict and urged President Ali Abdullah Saleh to intervene.