Observed by: Mr. Alaa Isam
"The free-spirited journalist Abdulelah Haidar Shai was imprisoned because he exposed American crimes in Yemen," said the speaker in the recording, who sounded like Awlaki, a frequent propagandist for al Qaeda's Yemen-based regional wing.
"Abdulelah was doing his journalistic duty and every journalist ..., his tribe and all Yemenis should carry out their duty to support him," said Awlaki, who is of Yemeni origin and believed to be hiding in southern Yemen. The recording's authenticity could not be independently verified.
Shai, a Yemeni al Qaeda expert, was sentenced to five years in prison in January after being convicted of aiding the global militant group. He has denied the charges.
Yemen is under international pressure to quash the resurgent al Qaeda wing in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, at the same time as it struggles to control southern secessionists and to cement a fragile truce with rebels in the north.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power for 30 years, has faced growing protests in recent weeks from thousands of Yemenis, inspired by uprisings that topped Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Hundreds of Yemeni protesters clashed with police blocking them from marching to the presidential palace in Sanaa on Sunday, witnesses said.
Awlaki drew attention to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables that showed Saleh secretly offered U.S. forces open access to his country to launch strikes against al Qaeda targets.
"The crime of the Yemeni government in collaboration with the Americans in bombing the people of Yemen should not be forgotten, and honest media people should take the banner from Abdulelah and conclude the journey he began," Awlaki said.
In early 2009, Shai interviewed Awlaki, who is wanted dead or alive by Washington. The footage was broadcast by the Arab news television network Al Jazeera.
Yemen has been at the centre of Western security concerns after the al Qaeda branch based there launched failed plots to bomb cargo airliners in October and to destroy a U.S.-bound passenger plane in December 2009.
(Reporting by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)