Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were released. Some were freed after a presidential order announcing an end to armed clashes in the Sa’da region; others had been detained in connection with protests in the south. Hundreds of new arrests were made and an unknown number of people detained in previous years continued to be held. Dozens of prisoners were sentenced after unfair trials before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC). The authorities failed to investigate possible extrajudicial executions and other killings by the security forces. Allegations of police brutality and torture or other ill-treatment were widespread. Sentences of flogging were imposed and carried out. At least 13 people were executed and hundreds of prisoners remained on death row, including minors.
Several attacks were attributed to al-Qa’ida and its supporters, including a bomb attack in September near the US embassy in Sana’a which killed 16 people, including civilians. In December, a member of the minority Jewish community was killed in ‘Amran Governorate and others received anonymous threats demanding that they convert to Islam or leave Yemen. Foreign tourists were also attacked: two Belgian tourists and two Yemenis accompanying them were killed in January. Two Japanese women and a German couple and their daughter were kidnapped and held briefly by members of tribes in protest against the detention of their relatives by the authorities.
In August the government announced an end to the armed clashes between the security forces and followers of the late Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi, a prominent cleric from the Shi’a Zaidi minority, which had taken place intermittently in Sa’da Governorate since 2004. Supporters of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi also announced an end to hostilities. Hundreds of prisoners were then released by both sides, including people held before and after trial by the authorities and the security forces as well as government supporters taken prisoner by Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi’s followers. It was not clear how many others remained unaccounted for. The President also ordered the release of prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, held in connection with peaceful protests that had occurred particularly in the south.
The government proposed negative changes to the Penal Code on corporal punishment, discrimination against women and the criminalization of criticism of religion. The government also proposed a Counter Terrorism Law and a Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Law, both of which define terrorism vaguely, would weaken safeguards for the protection of suspects, and contain no safeguards for the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
"Several protesters were deliberately killed or died as a result of excessive use of force by the security forces during peaceful protests."
In July, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considered Yemen’s sixth periodic report on implementation of the UN Women’s Convention. It found that discrimination and violence against women and girls remained entrenched in the laws and traditions of society and urged the government to take all necessary measures to move towards the elimination of such discrimination by the time of its next periodic review, due in 2013.
Freedom of expression
Despite the releases of prisoners of conscience, hundreds of people were arrested in 2008 for peaceful protest because they were suspected of being supporters of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi, supporters or members of al-Qa’ida, apostates or spies. Some were prisoners of conscience.
- Dr Mohamed al-Saqaf, a lawyer and university lecturer, was detained by National Security officials on 11 August in Sana’a as he was about to leave the country with his family on holiday. He was held at the Criminal Investigation prison for several days, then released on bail to face trial. He was charged with “undermining national unity” because he had criticized the government’s repression of peaceful protest by retired soldiers in the south of the country. He was also acting as defence counsel for Hassan Ba’oom, a Socialist Party activist who had been repeatedly arrested and detained for short periods without charge or trial.
- Haitham bin Sa’ad was reportedly arrested with four others in July in Hadhramout in connection with violent attacks in south-eastern Yemen. All five were suspected of being supporters of al-Qa’ida.
Prisoners of conscience were among the political prisoners released during the year.
- Fahd al-Qirni, an artist sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment on charges of insulting the President after he satirized him and criticized the government’s crackdown on protests in the south, was freed in September. He had been sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment and a fine.
Scores of suspected spies and alleged supporters of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi or al-Qa’ida were unfairly tried before the SCC, or had their sentences confirmed by the Appeal Specialized Court (ASC). Defence lawyers complained that they were not permitted full access to their clients’ files, and defendants alleged that “confessions” they had made during lengthy pre-trial incommunicado detention had been obtained under torture or other ill-treatment.
- In the so-called Sana’a Cell 2 case, 14 alleged supporters of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi were convicted of violent offences and other crimes in connection with the civil unrest in Sa’da in 2007. Some received prison terms and one defendant was sentenced to death. Those convicted included journalist Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani, a prisoner of conscience sentenced to a six-year prison term; he was released in September under a presidential pardon.
- Hamad ‘Ali al-Dahouk and ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Hatbani were sentenced to death as spies in February. Both men were convicted of informing the Egyptian authorities that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with the knowledge of the Yemeni authorities, were financing armed groups in Yemen to mount attacks against foreign tourists in Egypt. In October the ASC confirmed the death sentence against Hamad ‘Ali al-Dahouk but acquitted ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Hatbani. The case was due to be heard finally by the Supreme Court.
- Three people charged with spying for Iran appeared before the SCC in October. They were reported to have been previously detained for two months, held incommunicado and beaten. They were connected to a legal Shi’a association in Aden which had operated openly for years. The trial was ongoing at the end of the year.
- At least 37 alleged members or supporters of al-Qa’ida were tried before the SCC or had their appeals heard by the ASC. In February, Bashir Rawah Nnu’man was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for having false documents to travel to Iraq to participate in the conflict there. In October, the ASC upheld the convictions of 36 defendants sentenced by the SCC in November 2007; 33 received prison terms ranging from three to 15 years and three were sentenced to death in their absence. All had been convicted of belonging to an armed group and attacking oil installations.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Police brutality and torture of detainees held in connection with politically motivated acts or protests as well as ordinary criminal suspects were reported to be widespread and carried out with impunity. Confessions allegedly obtained under torture or other duress were accepted as evidence by the courts without being investigated adequately, if at all. Reported methods of torture included beating with sticks, punching, kicking, prolonged suspension by the wrists or ankles, burning with cigarettes, being stripped naked, denial of food and prompt access to medical help, and threats of sexual abuse.
- Tawfiq al-Masouri, sentenced to death by the SCC in January for a murder committed when he was 17, was reportedly tortured while held incommunicado for three months by police in Sana’a. He said that he confessed as a result of torture, and a medical examination carried out at his lawyer’s request found marks consistent with these allegations. However, no further investigation was known to have been undertaken by the authorities.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments
Sentences of flogging were frequently carried out after being handed down by the courts for sexual and alcohol offences.
Several protesters were deliberately killed or died as a result of excessive use of force by the security forces during peaceful protests. No independent investigations were known to have been carried out and no one was brought to justice.
- In May, Sheikh Yahya Muhammad Hassan al-Sawmali was reportedly beaten and then shot and left to die by soldiers at Tor al-Baha town in Lehj Governorate in the south. He was reported to have been unarmed and to have posed no threat to the soldiers. Several soldiers were reportedly arrested in connection with his death but there was no independent investigation and those responsible had not been brought to trial by the end of the year.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The government said it was drafting a refugee law but provided no details. It was unclear if the proposed law would conform to international standards for the protection of refugees, which the authorities continued to violate. According to reports, in August at least eight people were forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia despite fears that they would be at risk of torture and execution.
Yemen hosted over 40,000 Somali refugees who survived the hazardous crossing of the Gulf of Aden; many others were believed to have drowned or been killed by people traffickers. Some 1,300 asylum-seekers, according to government statistics, were returned involuntarily to their countries. Among those at risk of forcible return was Mohamadain ‘Abdel Hameed Haroun, a Sudanese national from the Darfur region, who would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment if returned to Sudan.
Discrimination and violence against women
Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice and were inadequately protected against domestic and other violence.
In April, parliament reportedly endorsed legal amendments that benefited women in social security, retirement and holiday allowances. However, the government failed to address the wider problem of discrimination against women.
In a “shadow” report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in advance of its July review of Yemen’s application of the UN Women’s Convention, Yemeni women’s rights organizations highlighted various forms of discrimination and violence against women, including abuses such as marriage of girls as young as eight.
- The case concluded against two police officers prosecuted for raping Anissa al-Shu’aybi in 2002 while she was detained in the Criminal Investigation Department in Sana’a. In April, the Court of First Instance in Sana’a acquitted one of the police officers but convicted the other, imposing a three-month suspended prison sentence. The court also awarded Anissa al-Shu’aybi compensation of 1 million Yemeni riyals (approximately US$5,000). Subsequently, the Appeal Court acquitted both police officers but upheld the compensation ruling.
At least 13 people were executed and hundreds of prisoners were on death row. Death row prisoners included individuals suffering from mental or other disabilities, and minors. Defendants with impaired hearing were sentenced after being denied interpretation facilities.
- Walid Haykal, sentenced to death for a murder committed when he was 16, remained on death row. His sentence had exhausted all appeals and was awaiting ratification by the President.