Presidential and local elections in September were accompanied by sporadic clashes between rival party supporters, some arrests and the blocking of at least two independent websites by the government. However, the elections were assessed as generally "open and genuine" by a European Union observer mission. President 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh was re-elected with a large majority. Before the election, women's groups rallied in the capital Sana'a to call for more women candidates in the local elections, in which women comprised only 2 per cent of candidates.
Unrest in Sa'da Province
Dozens of members of the Zaidi community and followers of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi, a Zaidi cleric killed in 2004, were released following negotiations between members of the Zaidi community and the government. Some had been detained after violent clashes between Zaidis and government security forces in previous years in Sa'da Province. Despite a ceasefire and presidential amnesty in September 2005, there was further violence early in 2006 in which dozens of people were reported to have been killed. However, few details emerged and a government clampdown prevented access to the region by the media and independent observers.
The trial of the so-called Sana'a cell - 37 members of the Zaidi community alleged to belong to the Faithful Youth organization and charged with causing explosions and plotting to kill military and political leaders ? concluded in November. One defendant, Ibrahim Sharaf al-Din, was sentenced to death, 34 others received prison terms of up to eight years, and two were acquitted. Both the prosecution and defence reportedly lodged appeals.
'War on terror'
Dozens of people continued to be detained without charge or trial as suspects in the "war on terror". They were denied access to lawyers and had no recourse to the courts to challenge the legality of their detention.
The authorities divulged no information about the legal status or whereabouts of Hadi Saleh Bawazir, who was reportedly detained by Political Security officers in early 2005 when he sought to travel to Iraq.
• Five foreign nationals reportedly studying in Yemen were arrested on 15 October in connection with an alleged plot to smuggle arms into Somalia. They were held at the Political Security prison in Sana'a where they were denied access to their families but given some access to consular officials. On 16 December, 'Abdullah Mustafa bin 'Abdul Rahim Aiob and his brother, Mohammed Illias bin 'Abdul Rahim Aiob, and Marek Samouslki, all Australian nationals, as well as Rasheed Shams Laskar, a UK national, and Kinith Sorenson, a Danish national, were released without charge. The men, along with their families, were said to have been told to leave the country. The Aiob brothers had been released on 2 December but were rearrested on 13 December.
Salah Addin al-Salimi, a Yemeni national captured by US forces in Afghanistan in 2002, was one of three detainees who died in detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in June. The US authorities said the three had committed suicide (see United States of America entry).
• In March, the authorities released Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah, Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali Qaru and Muhammad Abdullah Salah al-Assad, all of whom had been detained since they were returned to Yemen in May 2005 after they had been imprisoned for at least 18 months at undisclosed locations abroad by or at the behest of US authorities. In February, they were tried and convicted on forgery charges but released on account of the time they had already spent in prison.
• Two former Guantánamo inmates who had been detained since they were returned to Yemen were released. Walid Muhammad Shahir Muhammad al-Qadasi, returned in April 2004, was released without charge in March. Karama Khamis Khamisan, returned in August 2005, was tried and acquitted of drug trafficking charges in March and released in May.
• Zaidi clerics Yahia al-Dailami and Mohamed Miftah, both outspoken critics of the US-led invasion of Iraq, were released in May apparently after receiving presidential pardons. The former had been sentenced to death after an unfair trial in 2005, the sentence later being commuted by the President to a prison term. The latter had been serving an eight-year prison term. Both were prisoners of conscience. Muhammad 'Ali Luqman, a Zaidi judge serving a 10-year prison sentence, was also pardoned by the President and released in May.
Use of lethal force
Fawaz Yahya al-Rabi'ee and Mohamed Dailami, who escaped in February from the Political Security prison in Sana'a together with 21 other suspected members of al-Qa'ida, were killed on 1 October when Yemeni security forces reportedly fired from a helicopter gunship at two locations in which the men were hiding. It appeared that the security forces made little or no effort to apprehend the two men or to offer them an opportunity to surrender.
Special Criminal Court on Terrorism
The Special Criminal Court on Terrorism continued to be used to try terrorism-related cases despite concerns that it failed to meet international fair trial standards. Defendants were often held incommunicado in extended pre-trial detention before being charged and brought to trial. The court failed adequately to investigate defendants' torture allegations and convicted defendants on the basis of contested confessions. Defendants' rights to legal counsel were also severely constrained - they were denied access to lawyers while detained incommunicado for interrogation, and defence lawyers were reportedly denied access to case files. The authorities said that the court's proceedings were open, but defendants' relatives reported that they were prevented from attending hearings.
Prisoners of conscience
A leading human rights activist was detained as were relatives of people being sought by the authorities.
• 'Ali al-Dailami, executive director of the non-governmental Yemeni Organization for the Defence of Democratic Rights and Freedoms, was arrested at Sana'a airport on 9 October as he was about to travel abroad. He was detained at the Political Security prison, where he was held in solitary confinement, until 5 November. His detention was believed to be connected to his human rights work, including on behalf of his brother Yahia al-Dailami (see above).
• Mohammed al-Kazami, aged 15, was reportedly arrested in February and detained without charge or trial at the Political Security prison in Abyan, apparently with the aim of inducing one of his relatives to surrender to the authorities.
• Saddam Hussein Abu Saba'ah, Naif Abdulah Abu Saba'ah and Naji Abu Saba'ah were reportedly arrested in Sana'a on 15 July near to the US Embassy, where they apparently planned to seek asylum. In September, they were charged with "harming the reputation of Yemen" and "insulting the President".
• Ibrahim al-Saiani, aged 14, was released without charge in March. He had been held since May 2005 when security forces stormed his family home in Sana'a, apparently seeking one of his relatives. While in detention, his health gave serious cause for concern.
Freedom of expression curtailed
In February, three newspapers - the Yemen Observer, al-Hurriya and al-Ray Al'am - were suspended for allegedly publishing images offensive to Islam. The suspension order was overturned in May by the Prime Minister. However, the papers' editors-in-chief - respectively Muhammad al-Asadi, Akram Sabra and Kamal al-Olofi - were detained and reportedly charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad in connection with their publication of Danish cartoons. They were tried before the Court of Publications and Press. All three denied the charges and said that they had reproduced only small, censored versions of the cartoons in the context of articles devoted to praising the Prophet. In December, Kamal al-Olofi was sentenced to one year's imprisonment suspended and Muhammad al-Asadi was fined. In December, Akram Sabra' was sentenced to a four-month suspended prison sentence and banned from writing for a month. Both the defence and prosecution appealed against the sentence.
The authorities did not make public the number of people who were executed, but there were unconfirmed reports of at least 30 executions and several hundred prisoners were believed to be held under sentence of death. Although Article 31 of the Penal Code, Law 12 of 1994, provides that no one under the age of 18 may be sentenced to death, in February the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of Adil Muhammad Saif al-Ma'amari, who was convicted in 2002 of a murder committed when he was 16. He was reported to have confessed under torture.
• Ismail Lutef Huraish, who is deaf and had not had the assistance of a sign language interpreter since he was arrested in October 1998 in Taiz, and his cousin Ali Mussara'a Muhammad Huraish, both of whom were convicted of murder, remained under imminent threat of execution at the end of the year.
• Amina Ali Abdulatif was 16 when sentenced to death for the murder of her husband. Her execution, scheduled for May 2005, was stayed pending a review of her case by a committee appointed by the Attorney General. The committee's findings had not been disclosed by the end of the year. A co-defendant, Muhammad 'Ali Said Qaba'il, was also sentenced to death and remained on death row.
• Fatima Hussein al-Badi and her brother, Abdullah Hussein al-Badi, were sentenced to death in February 2001 for the murder of her husband. Their death sentences were confirmed by the Court of Appeal but the Supreme Court then commuted Fatima Hussein al-Badi's sentence to a four-year prison term before reinstating the death penalty. Her brother was executed in May 2005. She appealed to the President to commute her sentence on the basis that her trial was unfair.
In at least one case, a prisoner under sentence of death was released after family members of a murder victim accepted diya (financial compensation). Hammoud Murshid Hassan Ahmad, a former army officer who had been held since 1994, was freed in February.
Update: 2005 killings of refugees
No investigation was known to have been held into the actions of Yemeni security forces who violently dispersed a number of refugees and asylum-seekers taking part in a sit-in protest outside the Sana'a offices of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in December 2005. Seven people were killed and others sustained serious injuries.
AI country reports/visits
• Terror and counter-terror: Defending our human rights (AI Index: ACT 40/009/2006)
AI delegates visited Yemen in March and June.