INTERVIEW: Yemeni MP Ahmed Saif Hashed, “There Are No Human Rights In Yemen”
Mr. Ahmed Saif Hashed serves on the Yemeni Parliament’s Freedom and Human Rights Committee. An independent MP, Mr. Hashed represents constituency 70, which includes parts of Lahj and Taiz. Mr. Hashed is a prominent human rights activist with a special interest in the condition of Yemeni prisoners. He heads the Al-Tageer human rights organization and owns the Al-Mostakela newspaper. Jane Novak interviewed him for the Global Politician.
Q: Mr. Hashid, thank you for granting this interview. Can you tell us generally about the condition of human rights in Yemen? Which areas in your opinion require urgent attention?
ASH: Human rights in Yemen are totally absent. Crimes are committed by those responsible for protecting the law and its application. It pains me to find the security apparatuses practice torture, attacks and the worst kinds of mistreatments in the prisons and custody centers and also outside them.
This happens under the weak judiciary and the decorative parliament that was produced by terrible corruption and hasn’t even the minimum degree of responsibility. This country supports the tribe with its ignorant traditions at the expense of the law. It stands against law, and uses its force over the victims and over the legal articles that protect the human rights.
Q: You have been very active in advocating for the humane treatment of prisoners. What are the conditions like for prisoners in Yemeni central prisons in terms of food, sanitary conditions, medical care and abuse?
AHS: The food served to the prisoners is unpalatable and prepared in unhygienic conditions. The Parliamentary Committee of Rights and Freedom recommended increasing food allocations two years ago. Unfortunately the parliament has decreased the allocation. The most painful tragedy is that hundreds of prisoners do not receive any food allocations at all. For instance, the Sana’a Migrations and Passports Jail and some jails in Al- Houdadah depend on charity and soldiers’ food remains.
Some jails don’t have any infirmaries. Some others do, but they are in urgent need of medicine and equipment. Prisoners must purchase their prescriptions from the market; otherwise, they die in the jail.
Skin diseases are also common in some jails and are not treated. Some women are found to be suffering from diseases including syphilis and other skin diseases considered so disgusting that they are rejected by hospitals and are not kept in separation as a preventive measure.
The sanitary conditions in the prisons and custody centers are miserable. Heaps of urine bottles and defecation plastic bags were noticed at the corners of some prisons. The military police prison in Sana’a is one example. Other prisons, which are ancient and dirty buildings, do not have any good ventilation. This situation becomes worse during hot weather and when moisture increases. In some prisons, they use waste water due to the absence of drinkable water.
The prisons in Yemen are over crowded with the number of prisoners exceeding three times the capacity. It is unbelievable to find districts in Al-Houdeida governorate with no jails for women. In Alzaidia, female defendants are put in a house belonging to an old man. I visited this house and found five female defendants aged between ten and fifteen, accused of adultery, who have neither food nor health care allocations, but rather depend on charity .
Q: Is there a central authority that overseas all prisons? What kind of prisons exists in Yemen and how are they organized?
ASH: The central prisons and the custody centers in the governorates belong to the general prisons authority in Sana’a. The authority of prisons stems from Ministry of Interior. However, the security administrations exert greater influence on those prisons. Others prisons, holding hundreds, are controlled by their respective governmental security administrations and are not included into prisons department system. As a result, these prisons receive no official food and other allocations. Concerning the political security prisons, they are big, private and frightful, and it is impossible for anyone to visit them, even if parliament members.
Q: Can you explain the difference between tribal prisons, private prisons and central prisons?
ASH. Most of the sheiks in Yemen have their private prisons. These prisons are illegal. Among these illegal private prisons are the political security prisons in which there are horrible criminal acts against human dignity and rights. They are prisons in which you may spend years without justice. Then you may be released without charge or arbiter or even excuse. In its basements are horrible criminal acts and human indignities in such a manner that is unbelievable. It is a pity that the judiciary can not control such places.
Q: The Children’s Parliament visited children in detention found them in miserable conditions, beaten, malnourished, sexually exploited, held without trial and held for minor crimes. A study by the Interior Ministry concluded that 77% of juveniles (15 and under) in jail had not been charged. Another report documented over 500 juveniles in adult jails. How young are the youngest children in jail? If Yemeni law prohibits imprisoning children without charge, why are so many in jails?
ASH: Sorrowfully, many acts and crimes are committed against children in Yemen. For example, in Al-Maflahi prison in Lahj, a fifteen-tear-old child was sexually abused by a police officer. The incident was proved by three forensic experts. In the Ibb Jail of Investigation, a female child, no older than 13, was tortured by the investigators. In Al Baida Security Prison, child hostages, one of them aged below 11, were also found.
In Al-Houdaida Central Prison, a lot of children were found arrested by the political security. Some of them do not exceed 12. They live with the adults in the same prison and are prevented from being visited, by the orders of the Political Security orders. Those children are free of any charges. In fact, they are innocent. Some of them are taken from their schools. Others were arrested at roads while going or coming back from schools some were also captured at their houses. In one case, Ali Yaslam Ahmed, aged 14, was imprisoned for seven months. The security forces say that the child was arrested in place of his older brother, who had been sentenced to 10 years in jail.
A 16 year old hostage recounted his tale of being imprisoned four months ago, “My father is an old and sick man. He was taken as a hostage to bring his son under the pretext that he guaranteed but this was not proved. I am here in his place based on an order by Sheik Hamoud, the governorate security director”
Q: Are there many adults in prison who have never been charged as well?
ASH: This is very common in Yemen. Through our field visits ¸we find many prisoners without charges, dozens of hostages in who have been there for months and some of them for years without any acts ascribed to them. Rather they were jailed on the basis of crimes committed by their relatives or tribal members. Some of these prisoners have been for more than a year without any charge except their (religious) affiliation to the (Shiite) Hashemite House. This arrest is sometimes attributed to what they called precautionary action, which may last for one year or even more.
Q: Many (Shiite) Zaidis have been imprisoned since the outbreak of the Sa’ada war in 2004. Can you tell us how many were imprisoned in total and how many remain in jail?
ASH: There no clear statistics on the number of the arrests on the grounds of Sa’ada War. The government once confessed existence of three thousands. Yet, the number is much more than this, we think. Many prisoners were arrested on the grounds of the Sa’ada War without charge.
Q: Are there many political prisoners?
ASH: Yes, there political prisoners. For instance, Nasser Al-Nawba, the chairman of the retired associations coordination counsel, Hassan Ba Awm, a member of the political office of the Yemen Socialist Party. Hundreds of the arrests of the southern governorates were jailed and released on grounds of peaceful sit-ins in southern and some northern governorates during recent past.
Q: Many cases of brutal torture have reported in the media. One such case is that of Shaif Al-Haimi who says he was tortured by the National Security Agency, chained, severely beaten and scalded with boiling water. For 16 days, he was hung from the ceiling. Investigators forced him to dance. Prisoners in Hajja jail said they were tortured by policemen in charge of the jail and affiliated with the Criminal Investigation Bureau. How prevalent is torture in Yemeni jails?
ASH: Not only torture and methods of forcibly extraction of confession are common in private political security apparatuses prisons, but also prevalent in murder investigation departments and the Ministry of Interior’s police station. When I visited the murder investigation prison, as a member of the Parliament Freedom and Human Rights Committee, I saw, with my eyes, scars of stick beatings and heavy boots kicks, which are still apparent on the bodies of two persons. A report was made on this incident; however, the counsel of parliament did little. The murder investigation director is still in his position without being questioned by any official authority.
I also noticed other prisoners in police stations who were subject to torture and beatings. Among the victims is Abdulqader Mohammed, a Somali national, who has been in Yemen for six years. He was subjected to heavy beating a few months ago by five of the members of the Sana’a based Al-Wahda police station. Remains of this attack were proved by forensic examiners report.
Such acts happen daily in many police stations while Ministry of Interior does not stop or even reduce them, which indicate its partnership. It also does not consider them and send the criminals to the concerned authorities.
During one last visit to Al-Hodeida central prison on May 2005, we found out that many children, adults and disabled were complaining of torture, violence and isolated imprisonment by political security. These persons are jailed just on the grounds of Sa’ada War.
In Rada’a central prison, I noticed scars over the body of Mohammed Saleh, who demanded a forensic expert to testify them. He complained that they are remains of torture by acid and electricity. I took photos of these scars, recommending an investigation by the court of law. Others complained about being tortured with live cigarettes by the security.
Some prisoners complained about other means of torture, including hanging by hands or legs, beating by wires or cables, making hungry or thirsty, forcible long standing, prevention from sleeping for more than two days, psychological torturing, using acid and boiling water, pincers and others.
Q: Are you able to visit jails under the control of the Political Security Organization? What kind of prisoners are there?
ASH: No, we are not allowed to visit such jails. Since establishment of the parliament, its committee of rights and freedom did not pay even a single visit. An unsuccessful attempt made by the committee to visit the Political Security Prison in Hadramout. I personally tried to visit some political security jails, but was not allowed.
In example, Mohammed Ali Muhsen, from Aden, has been in the basements of the political security for one year and a half, on the basis of a letter he wrote to the president of the Republic, mentioning the bad situations and corruption in the political security system. He was arrested in Aden and sent to Sana’a political basements. The political security has been rejecting orders of the general director to release or even prosecute him, which, as usual, indicates superiority of the political security.
Q: The Ministry of Human Rights issued a report disclosing 100 hostages in five Yemeni prisons. What are hostages and how long are they held? Is this practice decreasing?
AHS: The number of hostages exceeds this figure greatly. While this figure was being stated by the Minister of human rights, I was visiting department of jails and found in official statistics dated 28 May 2007 that the number of hostages in Yemen reaches 545.
I have already visited AL-Baidah governorate, and found more than 70 hostages. The worst is that they include children. In the governorate security quarter prison, we found Abdurrahman Nasser Ahmed Ismail, below 10, Hussein Nasser Ahmed, aged 13. They are sons of the defendant Nasser Ahmed, whom the police could not arrest. Among them was the hostage Abdu-Alsalam Ali Ahmed, aged 15. He is a nephew of Nasser and a brother of the hostage, Abdraboo Ahmed Mohammed at the same time. In fact, they were released upon our visit.
We found Khalid Ahmed Abdu Hashem below 15, in Rada’a prison. While he was coming to bring bed-needs to his imprisoned uncle, Khaid was arrested by security guards and spent more than four months among killers and thieves. These hostages are mostly either some relative of escaped defendants or from their tribal members. In fact, crime involves only one, according to abiding law, and no one should be punished or jailed except on the basis of law. Sorrowfully we have never witnessed any positive and effective actions to reduce such a phenomenon.
Q: On June 26, 2006, Mr. Hashed you visited the Authority of Passports and Migration in Sana’a to conduct a field visit to the prison there. You intended to assess the condition of prisoners there after an Eritrean prisoner died under ambiguous circumstances. You report being beaten and kicked by prison officials, arbitrarily detained and threatened with death. Mr. Hashed, why were you treated this way?
ASH: This happened so that their crimes won’t be discovered by the public. Consequently, all the camera contents which I had were destroyed. These contents comprised a lot of photographs that unveiled the extent to which this authority is ugly. If a legal activist pays a sudden visit to these jails, this will scandalize the political system which pretends democracy and protection of rights and freedom. So, my attack could be a deterrent to any legal activist who may consider a sudden visit to these places.
Q: I understand that Parliament refused to hear some evidence about this incident. Why do you think they refused the evidence and where does the case stand now?
ASH: This issue was referred to the committee of defense and security, which is heavily biased towards the security apparatuses. The issue was initially rejected. This committee is the same one which had been entrusted to investigate the murder of my driver who was a relative of mine, Adel Saleh. It is the same committee entrusted with investigating my arrest at the political security apparatus headquarters after I participated in a peaceful sit-in, protesting against Ali Al-Dailami’s arrest by the political security. Al-Dailami was a legal activist and a chairman of the Yemen Association of defending rights and freedom. Instead of conducting investigation, the committee forced me to accept a tribal solution about my driver’s assassination and refused to investigate the second issue, my arrest, and it did nothing.
The committee intended to get rid of the issue of my attack at the passports and migration prison. It did not investigate. In fact, my intention was to direct them to question the prisoners who witnessed the crime. The committee refused to suspend the jail keeper during the investigation. It shamefully changed the facts, refused to investigate prisoners situations and was biased in all the proceedings, which is revealed by the report it has made. Instead of discussing these facts, and my explanation of the report of the committee, the parliament authorized another committee to solve my problems with the security committee which was formed for investigation.
It is in such a manner that the issue of prisoners’ situations was neglected, which was the stimulant of my visit to prisons, resulting in the negligence of the attack I was subject to. It is in such a way that many issues of human rights discussed at the parliament are tackled. This is an aspect of a tragedy we experience and pay its cost every day.
Q. What are the other situations of these prisoners? How do the concerned Authorities treat them, what are the most repeated complaints?
ASH: Most prisoners complain that judicial apparatuses do not abide by law, mainly concerning the dates fixed for imprisonment. Some prisoners complain of being imprisoned without trial or investigation, and of negligence in implementing the decrees ordering release of prisoners after ending period of punishment.
Judicial and prosecution members complain of procrastination. They ascribe some of the above-mentioned defects to the fact that the number judgment cadres is limited; the judge appointed may be responsible for more than six or seven districts or his districts may be over-populated. This occurs at the expense of the prisoner’s freedom.
Other issues include prisoners mixing with each other, children and adults. They are not separated on the basis of age, kind of crime, or stage of proceedings. Others have completed their period of punishment and are still imprisoned because of their inability to pay the costs, even if these costs are minimal. They may stay for a long time wanting for their legal decrees to be issued. Others say they don’t know the contents of these decrees because they don’t receive copies of the original. Some of them say they are prevented by the judge from defending themselves, mistreated during investigation and before they are sent to the public prosecution.
As for the foreigners who are arrested due to their illegal entrance to the country, they spend long periods in Yemen prison, waiting for years being freed; this subject motivated us to make a special page on “AL-Mostakela” to tackle problems of refuges in Yemen.