A Yemeni journalist who was close to slain US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi and was jailed for five years last year for promoting Al-Qaeda is on hunger strike, Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.
"Abdul Ilah Haydar Shae... has been on hunger strike since 12 February. He has stopped eating and drinking in an attempt to pressure the authorities to release him," said the media rights watchdog (Reporteurs Sans Frontieres, RSF) in a statement.
Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who will officially step down on February 21, ordered the freeing of Shae a year ago.
But "he was kept in detention as a result of direct pressure from the White House that began the day after the decree, when President Obama voiced 'concern' about his possible release because of his supposedly close ties to Al-Qaeda," RSF said.
RSF urged the Yemeni authorities to free Shae and deplored the "interference" by the Unites States, which it said "does not hesitate to violate freedom of expression in order to pursue its war on terror and secure the cooperation of other countries."
On January 18, 2011 the court specialising in terrorism cases convicted Shae, 34, of "working in the media for the benefit of Al-Qaeda, taking pictures of security buildings, embassies and foreign interests in Sanaa, and inciting Al-Qaeda to attack them."
After serving his five year prison sentence, Shae, employed by the official news agency Saba and held in jail since August 16, is due to be placed under house arrest for two years.
The journalist said in July 2010 that security agents had kidnapped and beaten him.
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"His health is deteriorating rapidly," RSF said on Wednesday.
A group of 146 journalists and activists also issued a statement received by AFP on Wednesday calling for Shae's release.
"We warn that this decision (to go on strike) threatens his life," it said. "We launch this campaign to call for saving his life and releasing him."
"Haydar's analyses have refuted much of the lies promoted by the media, thus embarrassing both the American and the Yemeni governments," said the statement, referring to attacks on Al-Qaeda hide-outs in Yemen.
Saleh has declared himself a US ally in its "war on terror" as his troops, backed by US drones, continue to battle the extremists in the country's southern and eastern provinces.
"Most victims of these attacks were innocent women and children who have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. The decision came to silence (Shae) after he unveiled most of these crimes," the statement added.
"We urge all local, regional and international rights groups and political parties to take up their duty towards this case," it said.
Shae, who specialises in terrorism, is considered one of Yemen's most knowledgeable journalists on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- the network's local affiliate.
He is also known for his close ties to Awlaqi, the jihadist preacher said by Washington to have been linked to a failed 2009 attack on a US-bound airliner, who was killed on September 30 in an air strike in Yemen.