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Yemen Court Upholds Death Sentence for Man Accused of Contacting Israel

  • Heather Murdock

On Saturday, a Yemeni appeals court upheld the death penalty against a man who once stood accused of being an Islamic Jihadist but now has been convicted of offering to work as an Israeli spy.

In Yemen, in the popular conscience, there are few things worse than being an Israeli spy. And according to a Yemeni court on Saturday, even attempting to spy for Israel is considered treason, and punishable by death.

Bassam al-Haidari was first sentenced to death in March 2009. He had been convicted of contacting former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by email, and on Saturday the appeals court upheld his sentence. He has one final appeal to Yemen's highest court.

Lawyer and human rights activist Abdul-Rahman Ali Barman says his client is no spy. Barman says the courts have refused to hand over any evidence against his client. And even if he is guilty of the single e-mail exchange, he is not guilty of treason.

According to the government, al-Haidari is accused of sending an e-mail, in Arabic, that says "We are the Jihad Organization and you are Jews but you are honest and we are ready for anything."

The response, which is believed to be in Hebrew, allegedly says, "We are ready to support you to be a stumbling block to the Middle East and we will support you as agents."

Barman says al-Haidari was arrested for political reasons, and because he had been harassing the Yemeni government for years. Al-Haidari has repeatedly made threats to bomb foreign embassies.

In reality, however, his lawyer says al-Haidari lived in an underground hovel, and supported his wife, two children and five handicapped brothers with no resources, and often no job. Now, having been convicted of the worst possible crime in the public's eyes, al-Haidari's family is harassed regularly, and cannot even afford milk for the baby.

In the coming months, Barman plans to bring the case to Yemen's Supreme Court. But many people in Yemen are opposed to defending al-Haidari in court.

Near Yemen's many urban gardens this man, an army officer, says he does not believe government officials when they accuse Israel of everything from the September 11 attacks to causing the crash of a Yemen Airlines flight off the east coast of Africa last year. But he says Israel is an enemy.

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