The authorities detained thousands of people in connection with protests in the south and elsewhere, and amid renewed fighting in Sa’da in the north. Most of those detained were released or tried. Others, mostly arrested in previous years, were sentenced to death or prison terms after unfair trials before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC). Torture and other ill-treatment were reported, and there was at least one suspicious death in custody. The authorities failed to investigate these and other violations, including alleged unlawful killings by government forces. The government tightened controls on the media. Women remained subject to discrimination and violence. The authorities afforded protection to refugees and asylum-seekers from Somalia, but forcibly returned terrorism suspects to Saudi Arabia despite the risks they faced there. At least 30 people were executed.
Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2009 were postponed for two years in the face of mounting unrest, protests in the south against alleged discrimination and advocating independence, and an upsurge in fighting in Sa’da Governorate in the north between government forces and members of the Sh’ia minority Zaidi community.
There were continuing attacks by armed groups, including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. In March, four South Koreans and a Yemeni man were killed by a bomb explosion in Shibam in Hadhramawt. Three health workers and three children kidnapped by unknown people in June from al-Jumhuriya Hospital in Sa’da were still missing at the end of the year; the government said that the six were still alive, but no further details were available. Three other health workers kidnapped with them, all women, were killed. In December, the government intensified attacks on what they said were al-Qa’ida strongholds, killing scores of people, including children and other relatives of suspects. On 25 December, a failed attempt to blow up a plane over Detroit in the USA drew international attention to al-Qa’ida in Yemen as the Nigerian national involved was reported to have received training in Yemen.
In May, Yemen’s human rights record was considered by the UN Human Rights Council under its process of Universal Periodic Review. It urged Yemen to fulfil its human rights obligations, including ending the execution of juvenile offenders.
The long-running conflict in the northern Sa’da Governorate between government forces and armed supporters of the late Zaidi Shi’a cleric Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi resumed with new intensity from August, when the government launched a military offensive codenamed Scorched Earth that included aerial bombing and deployment of ground troops. Over 190,000 people had been displaced by the fighting since 2004, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in December, and an unknown number of civilians were killed in 2009.
Both sides were believed to have committed serious human rights abuses. The government accused the rebel forces of killing civilians and captured soldiers, while the rebels alleged that government forces had carried out indiscriminate attacks, and tortured and killed al-Huthi supporters. In November, the fighting spread across the border with Saudi Arabia, despite the Saudi Arabian government’s attempts to seal the frontier and deny access to people fleeing the conflict. There was also fighting between Saudi Arabian forces and armed al-Huthi supporters.
The government closed off the area of fighting to the media and independent observers, making it difficult to obtain independent information about the conflict. The authorities were reported to have detained many suspected supporters of the rebels, but they did not disclose their number or other information, such as their legal status, where they were being held and under what conditions. Nor, it appeared, did they carry out independent and impartial investigations into alleged killings of civilians by their forces.
- At least 80 civilians were reported to have been killed when the Yemeni air force bombed Adi village in the Harf Sufyan district of ‘Amran, a governorate bordering Sa’da, in September. A government-appointed commission was said to have investigated the killings, but no findings were announced.
- Muhammad al-Maqalih, a journalist and member of the Socialist Party who had criticized government policies, particularly in Sa’da, became a victim of enforced disappearance. He was abducted from a Sana’a street in September, apparently by security officials. The authorities refused to disclose his whereabouts and legal status or allow him access to his family or a lawyer, but acknowledged in December that he was being held by the security forces.
Over 100 alleged al-Huthi supporters were brought to trial before the SCC, whose procedures in practice fail to satisfy international standards of fair trial. At least 34 of them were sentenced to death and at least a further 54 were given prison terms of up to 15 years for forming an armed gang and committing violent crimes, including killing soldiers, in 2008, in the Bani Hushaysh district north of Sana’a. They were arrested in 2008 together with at least 50 others who were released uncharged. They were tried before the SCC in separate groups.
Unrest in the south
Throughout most of 2009, there were protests in the south, particularly in Aden, against alleged discrimination by the government against southerners and in support of calls for the south to regain the status of an independent state, so breaking the union of 1990. Many of the protests were peaceful, but others became violent. Government forces were reported to have used excessive, including lethal, force against protesters, tens of whom were killed.
- On 3 July, security forces were reported to have shot dead ‘Ali Ahmed La’jam in his home in front of his family, even though he posed no threat. No independent investigation was known to have been carried out.
The authorities also carried out waves of arrests. Most of the detainees were quickly released, but some remained in prolonged detention. Among them were prisoners of conscience, including Salim ‘Ali Bashawayh (see below). Others were charged and brought to trial before the SCC.
- Qassim ‘Askar Jubran, a former diplomat, and Fadi Ba’oom, a political activist, who were charged with endangering national unity by organizing protests and calling for the independence of the south, appeared before the SCC in Sana’a in June. Their trial was still in progress at the end of 2009.
Torture and other ill-treatment
There were new reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by police and prison guards. The most commonly cited methods were beatings on the body with sticks and rifle butts, kicking and punching, and suspension by the wrists and ankles. The purpose appeared to be to punish and to extract “confessions” from detainees that could be used against them in court.
- Tens of detainees held in connection with protests in the south were reported to have been beaten and subjected to tear gas at al-Mukalla Central Prison in August after chanting demands in support of the independence of the south and for demanding their release. Seven who were seen as ringleaders, including Salim ‘Ali Bashawayh, were suspended by their wrists and ankles for several hours, causing them severe pain. They had been arrested in May after a peaceful protest calling for the release of political prisoners.
- Tawfiq Bassam Abu Thabit died in October while detained at the Political Security Prison in Sana’a. He had been wounded by shrapnel during armed clashes in Sa’da in 2008 and detained at a military checkpoint when his family were trying to take him for medical treatment. The authorities gave no reason for his death, which was possibly the result of medical neglect or ill-treatment. No investigation was known to have been conducted.
In November, Yemen’s application of the UN Convention against Torture was considered by the Committee Against Torture; the Committee urged the government to take immediate measures to eradicate torture.
Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments
Flogging continued to be used as punishment for alcohol and sexual offences.
Counter-terror and security
In addition to trials connected to the conflict in Sa’da and protests in the south, at least 24 people were tried by the SCC for alleged links to al-Qa’ida, including eight who were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years after being convicted of planning terrorist acts. Sixteen others, referred to as the Tarim Cell or the Brigades of the Soldiers of Yemen, were convicted by the SCC in July of carrying out acts of terrorism in 2007 and 2008; six were sentenced to death and the other 10 were sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years.
Over 90 Yemenis continued to be held by the US authorities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The body of one, Muhammad Ahmad Abdullah Saleh, was returned to Yemen for burial following his death at the prison in June. Salim Hamdan, who was detained following his return to Yemen in November 2008, was released in January. Six Yemenis returned to Yemen in December were detained for several days before being released without charge. Media reports suggested that the US authorities planned to send all or most of the remaining Yemeni detainees for “rehabilitation” in Saudi Arabia, apparently against the wishes of the Yemeni government.
Freedom of expression – the media
The government increased controls over the media. In May it established a court to try cases related to the media. The authorities also confiscated newspapers, denied some access to state-owned printing facilities and, in the case of al-Ayyam, one of the largest-circulation daily newspapers, sent in troops to prevent it publishing in May and besieged its offices in Aden.
Discrimination and violence against women and girls
In March, the government amended the nationality law to enable Yemeni women married to foreign men to pass on their nationality to their children. However, women continued to face discrimination under the law and in practice. They were also subjected to early and forced marriage and, it was believed, suffered high levels of violence within the family. Maternal mortality rates remained significantly higher than in most other countries in the region. In February, parliament approved a draft law to raise the marriage age for girls to 17, but it had not been enacted by the end of the year.
- Twelve-year-old Fauzia al-‘Amudi died in September while giving birth. She had been married when aged 11 to a 24-year-old man, and was in labour for almost two days before she could reach the nearest hospital, almost 100km away.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The authorities continued to afford protection to thousands of Somalis. At least 77,000 people were reported by UNHCR in December to have entered Yemen since January, mostly after making the perilous journey across the Red Sea. Others were believed to have drowned while attempting the crossing. The authorities detained and forcibly returned nationals of other countries, however, without allowing them access to asylum procedures.
- ’Ali ‘Abdullah al-Harbi and four other Saudi Arabian nationals were forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia in April without being given access to asylum procedures or any means to contest their deportations. The five were reportedly suspected supporters of al-Qa’ida and were at risk of serious human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
At least 53 people were sentenced to death and at least 30 prisoners were executed. Hundreds of people were believed to be on death row. More than 70 were under sentence of death in Ta’iz Central Prison alone.
- ‘Ali Mousa was executed in January after spending over 30 years in prison. Convicted of murdering a relative, he was believed to be mentally ill. According to reports, he did not die when first shot so the executioner then shot him in the head at close range.
- In March, the SCC sentenced three men to death after unfair trials – Abdul Karim Laliji and Hani Muhammad for spying for Iran; and Bassam al-Haydari for spying for Israel.
Amnesty International visit/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Yemen in February to conduct research.
- Yemen’s dark side: Discrimination and violence against women and girls
- Suggested recommendations to states included in the fifth round of Universal Periodic Review – May 2009