Dubai: Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the release of a journalist detained for the past two years after having reported US involvement in a deadly air raid against Al Qaida in southern Yemen.

Abdul Ilah Haydar Shae, an investigative journalist, was arrested on August 16, 2010 on charges of links to Al Qaida and sentenced the next year to serve five years behind bars.

“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,” Amnesty said.

It said Shae’s lawyers and Yemeni activists insist the charges against him were fabricated because of his investigative journalism.

“There are strong indications that Shae was targeted for revealing evidence of the US role in a cluster bomb attack that killed dozens of residents,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy Middle East and North Africa programme head.

“Two years on, he remains behind bars. The charges on which he was convicted appear to be based on what he has done as part of his legitimate activities as a journalist. As such his conviction must be set aside and he should be released.”

It said Shae had before his conviction been “held incommunicado, and he told his lawyers and others who were present at one of the court sessions that he was beaten during that time.”

Shae alleged US involvement in a December 2009 missile attack on Al Majalah in Abyan province of southern Yemen, Amnesty said, noting the strike killed 41 local residents, mostly women and children, and 14 alleged Al Qaida members.

“The Yemeni and US authorities have failed to account for the attacks that killed dozens of Yemeni residents, and a journalist who revealed information about the US involvement has been behind bars for two years,” said Hadj Sahraoui.

In January 2011, a special court convicted Shae, 34, of “working in the media for the benefit of Al Qaida, taking pictures of security buildings, embassies and foreign interests in Sanaa, and inciting Al Qaida to attack them.”