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Yemen - HRW World Report 2001 in Arabic



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Yemen's poor human rights record showed little improvement in 2000. While the government set up several committees to monitor abuses, it signally failed to implement basic human rights protections in most areas. There were credible reports of torture in state prisons as well as in private jails and illegal detention facilities, and the courts continued to impose death sentences and cruel punishments such as floggings for a wide range of offenses. The authorities detained political opponents and ignored court orders for their release or trial, and threatened to dissolve a main opposition party. Government harassment of the independent press and restrictions generally on freedom of expression worsened. Women continued to face institutionalized discrimination, especially in personal status and criminal law. Yemenis and foreign nationals remained prey to kidnaping by criminal or disaffected groups, provoking government responses that were often marked by excessiveand indiscriminate use of lethal force by security forces and the imposition of collective punishment. A draft law presented to parliament in April would allow police to open fire at any "dubious" gathering of more than five persons.

Investigations into the October 12 bombing of the USS Cole, a naval destroyer refueling in the port of Aden, were conducted on the Yemeni side by the Political Security Organization (PSO), an agency that reported directly to President Ali Abdallah Salih and operated without any judicial or other formal authorization. According to press reports, some 1,500 persons were picked up for questioning and about sixty were reportedly being held at the end of October. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) dispatched several score of agents to assist in the investigation, but were not allowed to participate in interrogations. The PSO contributed to a general atmosphere of political intimidation through its routine recourse to harassment, beatings, and arbitrary detention. PSO plainclothes agents in past years infiltrated the independent press, syndicates, and civic organizations, in some cases forcing those organizations to cease their activities. Persons seeking to work for government institutions, including the university, required PSO clearance.

Yemeni human rights activists told Human Rights Watch that torture and ill-treatment of detainees was less frequent than in recent years, but the local press did carry reports of abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners by the authorities. Muhammad Ali Talib of Lahj governorate, for example, was arrested several times without warrant and severely beaten, according to the Aden-based Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Democratic Liberties, and the Yemen Times reported on April 24 that police officers had beaten to death detainee Amin Abdullah al-Samti in al-'Udain district, Ibb governorate.

According to local press reports and human rights organizations, mistreatment and torture occurred in private as well as in official detention facilities. On April 1, the governor of al-Hodeida removed the al-Mansuriya district security director, Ahmad Ali Naji, and had him charged with using the district's detention facilities to mistreat prisoners and extort bribes. In July, lawyer and parliamentarian Muhammad Naji al-Alaw discovered a freight container at Sana'a University's law faculty being used by administrators as a detention facility for holding students and employees accused of minor violations. On April 11, three people died of suffocation and thirst after being detained in a container in Jabal al-Sharq in Dhamar governorate. Their deaths were widely attributed to two tribal leaders but in a letter to the Aden-based independent daily al-Ayyam, one of these denied allegations that his family operated a private jail.

In a move to crack down on private jails and prisons, the government dispatched forces to a number of districts in Ibb governorate in late October 1999. Facilities in al-'Udain were blown up, and twenty-four detainees were transferred to state facilities for investigation. In general, however, the government seemed reluctant to take legal measures against those operating private prisons, most of whom were prominent tribal and regional leaders.

Although a presidential decree issued in 1998 made kidnapping of foreigners a capital offense and set up a special court in Sana'a to try those accused of the crime, Yemenis, as well as foreign tourists and diplomats, continued to be kidnapped by diverse groups, often inhabitants of marginalized northern and eastern regions seeking economic or political concessions from the government. Most victims were released unharmed after payment of a ransom, but on June 10, Norwegian diplomat Gudbrand Stuve and his nine-year-old son were victims of a kidnap attempt on a busy street in Sana'a. Stuve, however, was killed in a shoot-out between the four kidnappers, tribesmen from al-Jawf, and the occupants of another car, apparently members of the security forces.

On several occasions, the government deployed military and paramilitary units to areas where kidnappers were suspected of hiding with their captives and used excessive force against local inhabitants. In early July, for example, according to the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat daily, government forces surrounded the Sirwah area in the eastern governorate of Mareb after six Republican Guard officers were kidnapped by people seeking the release of a man convicted of hijacking a car. Even after the release of the hostages, government troops continued to bombard the area, killing at least three people and injuring others, and destroying houses, according to Sana'a's English-language weekly Yemen Times.

In September, security forces surrounded Kud Qarru village, near Aden, where citizens had prevented a contractor from extracting gravel and stones from what they regarded as their properties, and put down the protest by force, injuring several people and detaining 135, according to al-Ayyam. Lawyer `Arif Ahmad al-Halimi, detained in this incident on September 9 and released on September 26, alleged that the security forces carried out further detentions, used torture, and refused to comply with judicial orders to release detainees. In mid-October, fifteen people from the area were brought to trial for "forming an armed gang to appropriate state property," charges they denied.

Several journalists were questioned by security forces and detained without charge, and opposition or independent newspapers were the targets of defamation suits brought by the Ministry of Information. In September 1999, the appeals court in Sana'a ordered the suspension of al-Shura, the weekly newspaper of the opposition Union of Yemeni Popular Forces; the paper remained suspended for nearly a year and only resumed publication in August 2000. On February 22, a Sana'a court suspended al-Wahdawi, publication of the opposition Nasserist Unionist Party, for thirty days and fined journalist Jamal `Amer YR 5,000 (U.S. $30) in connection with an article on Yemeni-Saudi relations. Also in February, the head of security forces in Aden threatened Hisham Basharahil, editor of the independent thrice-weekly newspaper al-Ayyam, with arson or physical harm for an article published in 1999 reporting the destruction of a Aden synagogue by security forces. On May 10, Basharahil was charged in an Aden court with spreading false information about the government, instigating the use of force and terrorism, and threatening the republican system in Yemen by publishing an interview with a London-based militant, Abu al-Hamza al-Masri, on August 11, 1999.

Assaults on freedom of expression came from sources outside the government as well. Mosque preachers and conservative political groups in Sana'a, Aden, Tai'zz, and al-Hodaida waged a campaign in June against Samir Rashad al-Yusufi, editor of the Ta'izz-based weekly al-Thaqafiya, over its serialization of Sana'a is an Open City, a novel by Mohammed Abdulwali that they alleged was blasphemous. In July, al-Yusufi was brought to trial on charges of apostasy before the criminal chamber of a Sana'a court. According to local human rights defenders, the judge handling the case, Mohammed Mahdi al-Raimi, had been among those involved in the campaign against al-Yusufi. Al-Raimi prohibited all reporting about the trial, and summoned to court two newspapers, al-Nas and al-Ihya' al-'Arabi, for violating this order. At this writing, the Supreme Court was deliberating on the question of whether the Sana'a court's jurisdiction covered a Ta'izz-based newspaper.

The authorities detained persons suspected of possessing publications banned in Yemen, among them bookshop owner Ayoub Nu'man and Faisal Sa'id Far'a, director of al-Sa'id Cultural Establishment in Ta'izz. Jarallah `Omar and Ali Salih `Ubbad, leaders of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party, were briefly held on the same charge at Sana'a airport in late April. The government suspended international and mobile phone service and pagers for a number of days at the time of the tenth anniversary of Yemen's unification in May. Internet access, availableonly through a government company, continued to be extremely slow and expensive, and access to some websites containing political content was reportedly blocked.

Academic freedom came under attack on December 3, 1999, when the Sana'a University administration closed its Empirical Research and Women's Studies Center. Despite a complaint by students, the closure was upheld in court. This followed conservative outrage over certain presentations made at a September 1999 conference on "Challenges for Women's Studies in the 21st Century." In particular, al-Sahwa, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform's (al-Islah) weekly newspaper, criticized the conference, the center's curriculum, and its staff. So fierce was the condemnation from this and other quarters that the center's executive director, Ra'ufa Hasan al-Sharqi, felt obliged to employ personal bodyguards. In April 2000, a new Center for the Study of the Woman was opened at the university but gender studies had been purged from the curriculum.

The autonomy of the university was also violated by the regular presence of security personnel on campus, leading some faculty members to request the parliament to ban the security forces from campuses.

In late April, the authorities closed the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) center in Ja'ar, a town in Abyan governorate, and detained between fifty and one hundred supporters and party members who they suspected of planning a rally to commemorate two victims of police killings in April 1998 in Mukalla. In late August, five leading YSP members were detained in Aden on charges of meeting without a permit. Delegates to the YSP's Fourth General Congress, held in Sana'a from August 30 to September 1, decided to reinstate to the central committee forty-two exiled leaders, four of whom had been sentenced to death in 1998 in their absence. The authorities claimed that this proved the party's "separatist" leanings. In an interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat on September 9, Foreign Minister Abd al-Qadir Ba Jammal suggested that the YSP "should be given the coup de grace." Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported on September 21 that the government had set up a special committee to consider the legal aspects of the possible dissolution of the YSP, although Sultan al-Barakani, a leading member of the ruling General Peoples's Congress (GPC), repeatedly denied this possibility, calling it "inconceivable." At this writing, YSP members claimed that some U.S. $14-18 million in party funds remained frozen by the government.

President Saleh and a group of 144 members of parliament put forward two sets of proposals for constitutional changes on August 23. The president proposed lengthening the parliamentary term from four to six years, and so postponing elections planned for April 2001. The parliamentarians proposed extending the presidential term from five to seven years, effectively paving the way for Saleh, in power since 1978 but directly elected for the first time in September 1999, to remain in office, subject to reelection, until 2013. This proposal would also empower the president to dissolve parliament, and to amend aspects of the constitution without holding a referendum, and grant the president-appointed Consultative Council legislative powers, thus marginalizing the role of the elected parliament. Such changes would significantly offset the impact of the proposed abolition of the president's authority to make law by decree when parliament is in recess, and were expected to be passed by the parliament, which is dominated by the president's party, before the end of 2000. At this writing, however, it was not clear whether the government would submit the proposed amendments to a national referendum, as required by the 1994 constitution.

Despite the president's stated commitment in September 1999 to stand down as chair of the Supreme Judicial Council, the parliament had not passed the necessary amendments to Law 1/1991 on Judicial Authority as of this writing.

Although women enjoyed the same "general rights and obligations" as men under the constitution, they faced discrimination in national legislation. Under Law 20/1992 on Personal Status, as amended in 1998 and 1999, women were required to sue for divorce although men could divorce at will, and divorced mothers, unlike fathers, lost custody of their children upon remarriage. Sisters and daughters inherited half the share of brothers and sons. In 1999, the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women, rarely enforced, was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at the age of nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage. The law was silent on procedures to enforce this provision. Penal legislation forbade the testimony of women in criminal matters and compensation to be paid for assault or murder of a woman was half that of a man. Prison conditions for women and their children were harsh. Children were reportedly detained in facilities with adults, and women prisoners were vulnerable to sexual exploitation by prison guards. Without any basis in current legislation, women prisoners who completed their sentences were only released to the custody of a male guardian who agreed to take responsibility for them, with the result that many women remained incarcerated after their terms had expired.

According to a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) study released in 1999, there were four hundred so-called honor killings in 1997. This was probably a conservative assessment, since such crimes often went unreported and uninvestigated. Only since 1999 have the Yemeni press and human rights and women's groups reported on violence against women on a regular basis.

Law 12/1994 imposed the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, adultery, apostasy, and a range of other crimes. These sentences, as well as flogging for premarital sexual relations and consumption of alcohol, were often carried out in public. At least twenty-two executions of persons convicted of murder were reported between January 1999 and April 2000.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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