(Sanaa) - A second protester died on February 23, 2011, from an attack by provocateurs on anti-government demonstrators at Sanaa University the night before, Human Rights Watch said today. Another protester died shortly after the Sanaa attack.
Demonstrators in Sanaa told Human Rights Watch that police had harassed them and other protesters near the university. At least three were detained for several hours, and one said a police officer beat him for trying to deliver medical supplies to the protest.
"The blood spilled by thuggish attackers is on the hands of the Yemeni authorities who've done little to protect peaceful protesters," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The United States and other governments should press President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his government to keep his word and end attacks on demonstrators."
Saleh ordered all security forces on February 23 to halt clashes and prevent direct confrontation between demonstrators and promised to protect the right to peaceful assembly.
The second slain protester from Sanaa, college graduate Awadh Al-Soraihi, was a 32-year-old justice ministry employee and father of one, a family member told Human Rights Watch. Al-Soraihi was admitted to the Al-Jomhori hospital in Sanaa on February 22 in critical condition and died on February 23, the relative said. He had four bullets in the chest; one of them to the heart.
Despite government claims that the two dead were government supporters, the source said Al-Soraihi was a member of the opposition Islah Party.
The first victim from February 22 also died in Al-Jamhori hospital from a bullet wound to the head, according to a Sanaa University student union leader who spoke to the doctors at the hospital. He said that, according to the doctors, the body was still unidentified as the security officials refused to let anyone enter to identify the body.
In Aden, another protester, Aref Mohammad Aoud, 19, died of injuries he sustained earlier in the week, according to media reports and a local human rights activist.
In Sanaa protesters packed the university square sit-in on February 23, chanting slogans and reading poems. A group of pro-Saleh supporters gathered across the street in the afternoon, but police lined the square and as of evening the situation remained calm.
The number of people arrested during the attack on the night of February 22 remained unclear, although several witnesses said they saw police taking people away in their vehicles. Three people told Human Rights Watch that police harassed and detained them at the protest site or at medical facilities, including a high-school student who said police detained and beat him intermittently for about 45 minutes as he was trying to deliver medical supplies to injured demonstrators.
"Police at the check-point took away my ID and my phone, and one of the officers started questioning me," the 19-year-old student, who asked to be identified only as Marwan, said of one policeman. "He accused me of betraying my country and kept asking who was giving us money. He punched, kicked, and slapped me, and even accused me of participating in the killings."
Marwan said his ordeal began after leaving the square to buy and deliver first-aid supplies from a pharmacy for a fifth time. A group of seven government supporters entered the pharmacy, started questioning him, and tried to convince the pharmacist not to sell him medications, Marwan said. After the men left, Marwan was riding back on his motorcycle when the police stopped him near the square.
Marwan said he told the police he was carrying medical supplies for the wounded, and the police put him into a vehicle and drove to the next police checkpoint, away from the square. Marwan said he saw two other men at the checkpoint with a pistol and a bottle of gasoline, but the police seemed to know them by name, and let them go. Then they took him to the police station, where several officers continued questioning him: "Several policemen continued questioning me, saying that they would only release me once I gave them information about who supports the protesters with money and food."
Marwan said that he then started asking police to contact his relatives, and mentioned the name of his uncle, an influential businessman. The police seemed to know the name, and they drove him to the checkpoint to retrieve his confiscated phone soon after.
Two other young men told Human Rights Watch that a group of police officers grabbed them by the hair and detained them for two hours at a security office at Al-Jamhori hospital when they tried to visit one of the injured protesters.