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Letter to Minister of Interior on Abuses by Central Security Forces

His Excellency Abdul-Qader Qahtan
Minister of Interior
Republic of Yemen
 
 
Re: Ahmad Saif Hashid

 

Your Excellency,

We would like to thank you once again for meeting with our delegation on February 10 to discuss the new Human Rights Watch report about the Friday of Dignity massacre on March 18, 2011.

We also write to express our grave concern about an incident that occurred mid-day February 12, 2013 that resulted in serious injury to Ahmad Saif Hashid, a member of parliament, and also injured between four and six other protesters. At mid-day in front of the prime minister’s office in Sanaa, Central Security Forces, armed with batons, beat MP Hashid and other protesters, most of whom were persons injured by security forces or pro-government armed gangs during Yemen’s 2011 uprising. Since February 1, they have camped out at this location protesting the government’s alleged failure to provide them with medical assistance. MP Hashid was a supporter of the protest and was frequently present.

We understand from Saba, the state news agency, that Prime Minister Muhammad Salem Basindwa apologized to MP Hashid and asked you to form a panel to investigate the incident and report to the public prosecutor. We urge you to appoint persons of high integrity who are capable of carrying out an independent and impartial inquiry. We also call on you to make the results of the inquiry public when the panel sends its report to the prosecutor.

Human Rights Watch spoke with several persons who witnessed the incident, including MP Hashid. On the morning of February 12, according to the witnesses, a group of some 20 to 30 security forces, including Central Security and members of the army’s 4th Brigade, deployed outside the prime minister’s office. About 15 of the Central Security officers, armed with batons, were in close proximity to the protesters, who numbered about 20 to 30. Additional security forces were in several police trucks nearby. One witness said that the security forces and the protesters exchanged insults and taunts prior to the assault on the protesters.

Human Rights Watch visited MP Hashid in Mutawakkil hospital in Sanaa on February 14. He told Human Rights Watch that some Central Security officers entered the sit-in area, harassing and stepping on the legs of some protesters. When one officer threatened to step on a protester’s head, Hashid said that he intervened:

The officer tried to hit me, but I grabbed his baton. He walked away. I spoke to an officer who appeared to be in charge and asked him why they were doing this to peaceful demonstrators. He said, “I will solve the problem.” About five minutes later, the officer who tried to hit me, along with another one, approached me. They both hit me at the same time with their batons. I fell to the ground. I wasn’t unconscious but couldn’t really think, and I was bleeding heavily. Then there was tear gas, and I was choking. They were trying to get the protesters who were trying to help me to leave me.

Hashid said that he was not sure if the second officer who beat him was also from Central Security, but that, so far as he was aware, 4th Brigade soldiers who were present did not take part in the assault. He said that officers from the prime minister’s security detail were also present but did not take part.

Another witness told Human Rights Watch that she observed the officers single out Hashid. After Hashid fell to the ground, she said, officers started beating other protesters as well. It was then that the security forces also used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The witnesses to the attack said the Central Security officers had given no warning prior to their assault, or issued any call for protesters to disperse.

Hashid told Human Rights Watch that fellow protesters assisted him to a Red Crescent ambulance that was on call, about 50 meters away. He said that security forces prevented it from leaving for about five minutes, and tried to remove him from the vehicle. “I heard lots of screaming,” he said. “I was holding my bleeding head.” Hashid said that members of the prime minister’s security detail were present and attempted to intervene to allow the ambulance to leave.

A third witness told Human Rights Watch that protesters managed to get several other wounded protesters into the ambulance. This witness said that it was Central Security forces that attacked Hashid and the other protesters. She told Human Rights Watch that the other protesters appeared to be badly bruised. One protester’s wrist may have been broken. This witness said that before the ambulance managed to leave the grounds of the prime minister’s office security forces were banging on the body of the ambulance with their batons. “It was really scary,” she said.

Hashid, whose head was heavily bandaged when Human Rights Watch visited him, said that he suffered two head wounds – one 12 centimeters long and 2 centimeters deep, requiring 6 stitches, and the other 8 centimeters long, requiring 4 stitches. His skull was not fractured, he said, but he was suffering from some inner swelling.

Hashid said that the recently appointed commander of Central Security, Fadhal Yahya al-Qawsi, visited him in the hospital on February 13. He said that the commander offered that he would pay his medical bills and would punish “the 17,” and urged Hashid not to file a criminal complaint. Hashid said he refused.

Your Excellency, there appears to be no justification for the use of force apparently used against MP Hashid and the other protesters, who by all accounts posed no threat of harm to the security forces or to anyone else.

At our February 10 meeting, we raised with you the importance of holding security forces under your command accountable for violations of the law. In that meeting, you said that no internal investigations, disciplinary measures, or prosecutions had been initiated regarding alleged Central Security Forces human rights violations in 2011, but that violations had decreased following the dismissal of the former Central Security chief-of-staff and staff commander, and that going forward Central Security Forces would be held accountable for serious violations.

On the basis of witness accounts provided to Human Rights Watch, it appears that Central Security Forces were responsible for unnecessary or excessive use of force on February 12. We urge you to appoint without delay the independent inquiry requested by the prime minister, instruct Central Security Forces commanders to cooperate fully with the panel, make the panel’s findings public, and refer to appropriate disciplinary action or prosecution all those members of the security forces responsible for violating the rights of MP Hashid and others.

We would appreciate learning what steps you have taken in regard to this matter.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
 
Joe Stork
Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa division
Human Rights Watch

 

cc: His Excellency Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs

        Her Excellency Hooria Mashhour, Minister for Human Rights

 

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