(Sanaa) – Yemeni authorities should immediately order an impartial investigation into the alleged torture of a detainee and his mistreatment after release. Ibrahim Ali Nassan al-Sanbare, 22, alleged that he was severely beaten by state security forces while in custody. He was held without charge from August 25 to September 8, 2013, and then prevented from seeking redress for his injuries.
Al-Sanbare told Human Rights Watch that after he had a dispute with paramilitary Central Security Forces officers on August 25, they beat him severely, breaking his arm. The officers then transferred him to a jail, where they shackled his arms and legs but did not treat his injuries. After his release, the police Criminal Investigation Division (CID) intervened with three public hospitals and a private hospital where he sought treatment for his injuries to keep him from getting a medical examination record of his condition. The case raises both the serious problem of torture in Yemeni detention centers and the government’s efforts to block redress for victims of abuse.
“Trying to stop a victim of police torture from getting medical treatment takes cruelty to new levels,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to investigate what happened to Ibrahim al-Sanbare at the hands of its security forces and make sure that anyone responsible for mistreatment is punished.”
Al-Sanbare, a student who drives a taxi in Sanaa, the capital, during the summer, told Human Rights Watch that he was arrested after he got into a dispute over a fare with a member of the Central Security Forces, a paramilitary force under the control of the Interior Ministry. Members of the unit then accused him of trying to detonate a grenade at the nearby Yemeni-American Language Institute. About a dozen officers took him into a container unit they use while on duty outside the school, he said, and hit him with their fists, gun butts, and sticks over a period of several hours, breaking his arm.
Al-Sanbare was then transferred to the police station in al-Wahda, Sanaa. Several policemen in civilian clothes interrogated him, demanding that he admit to being a terrorist and forcing him to sign a document he was not allowed to read. He told Human Rights Watch that after several hours the police transferred him to the pretrial detention facility of the police CID, under the Interior Ministry, which detains suspects while it investigates criminal cases.
He said that prison authorities chained his arms to his opposite legs, including the broken arm, which had not received medical treatment, and kept him that way for 14 days. Detention center staff gave him pills that he suspects were to dull the pain, but he remembered nothing else about his detention, which he attributed to the pills. A new scar on his head suggests an impact that broke the skin.
Al-Sanbare’s family discovered his whereabouts by contacting the al-Wahda police station. After paying at least 100,000 riyals (US$450) in bribes, they visited him in prison on August 30. His family told Human Rights Watch that guards brought him to them in shackles and wearing nothing but underwear. The guards claimed that he had become violent and was attacking other prisoners.
Human Rights Watch observed scars on al-Sanbare’s ankles and wrists that are consistent with his allegation of long-term shackling. During the interview, al-Sanbare had severe difficulty speaking, was shaking and sweating, and seemed to have trouble focusing his eyes.
On September 8, the South West Sanaa Public Prosecution Office issued an order for al-Sanbare’s release. Al-Sanbare said his family took him to three public hospitals that day to obtain treatment and a medical examination record of his condition as proof of his injuries. Two of the hospitals refused to admit him once he gave his name.
At the third, al-Thawra Hospital, his brother told Human Rights Watch, CID officer assigned to the hospital intervened, saying that a doctor could give him a medical examination record only with permission of the prosecution. His brother called the prosecutor’s office, which responded that its sole role was to release al-Sanbare and refused to give permission.
His family then took him to the private al-Mutawakel Hospital, where the medical staff took x-rays that showed the fracture in his left arm. He then went to a second private hospital, Ibn Sina, to have his arm set. There the doctor, upon hearing his account, called in the resident CID officer to get permission to issue al-Sanbare a medical examination record.
The officer made a phone call, gave al-Sanbare’s name, and then told the doctor and the family that he could receive treatment but not a copy of the medical examination record. The officer said that a record of his physical condition could only be provided if al-Sanbare had come directly to this hospital upon his release. Al-Sanbare’s broken arm was put in a cast.
Al-Sanbare’s family told Human Rights Watch that they planned to take him to a private laboratory for blood work to determine the type of medication given during his detention. Private medical labs, unlike private hospitals in Yemen, do not have CID officers. But the family said that any results from a private lab would not be officially recognized as evidence in court.
Abdulsalam Abu al-Rejal, the head of the CID for the greater municipality of Sanaa told Human Rights Watch that his office could not comment on the case. Human Rights Watch’s attempts to speak with officials from Ibn Sina Hospital and the prosecutor’s office were also unsuccessful.
As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Yemen is obligated to “ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture… has the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant [is] protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint.” The convention also provides that a victim of torture has “an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.”
If al-Sanbare’s allegations prove true, the authorities must provide him fair and adequate compensation, including medical care. They are also obligated to bring to justice those responsible for his mistreatment, including his denial of medical care.
Torture is banned in the Yemeni constitution as a means of coercing a confession during arrest, investigation, detention, and imprisonment. It is also criminalized in the penal code.
Yemeni authorities should ensure that education and information about the prohibition against torture is fully included in the training of all law enforcement personnel. The government should systematically review interrogation rules, instructions, methods, and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of people who are arrested, detained, or imprisoned.
“Cases like al-Sanbare’s put a spotlight on the larger issue of whether Yemen is meeting its obligations under international law to prevent the torture of suspects in custody,” Stork said.