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Yemen’s Human Rights Heroes Honored

Yemen’s National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD) announced the winners of its Human Rights Awards for 2009.

Among the honorees was a comedian imprisoned for being too funny, a woman who spoke out about rape by security forces, members of a village who rebelled against a brutal sheik and a man tortured and sodomized in a tribal prison.

“The winners are true heroes. They are not heroes like we are used to seeing on T.V, but they are normal people that made a difference, which ministries can’t,” said Khalid al-Anisi, the executive director of HOOD at the presentation January 21.

Fahd al-Qarni, Anisa al-Shuaibi, Mohammed al-Khawlani, Saeed al-Ibbi and Hamdan AL-Dersi are the winners of the award valued at 10.000 R.Y.

Fahd al-Qarni
Comedian Fahd al-Qarni is the only honoree with any education. His skits satirizing the Yemeni political system, highlighting corruption and mimicking the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, are wildly popular in Yemen. After months in detention, al Qarni refused an offer of freedom without the release of other political prisoners in Yemen, including journalists and activists.

“Neither the president, nor the security apparatus can give us our rights, if we don’t rebel against our fear,” al-Qarni said. Al-Qarni donated part of his award to support the al-Ja’ashin villagers and is using part to produce a cassette called “Your Porridge,” which describes civil and human rights violations as the President’s porridge.

“We are honored twice, the first one was ‘in front of ourselves’, when we say no for oppression and yes for rebellion against tyrants,” said al-Qarni.

Anisa al-Shuaibi
Anisa al-Shuaibi was drugged and raped while in custody of Yemeni security forces. In Yemen’s highly conservative society, publicizing the allegation at a HOOD press conference was itself a social break through. She said she considers the award as a victory for humanitarianism. Al- Shuaibi’s faced a backlash that impacted her reputation and safety. She and her children were physically attacked and her family was forced to leave their home. Her courageous stance brought about a concrete change to the procedures of women’s imprisonment.

Saeed al-Ibbi and Mohammed al-Khawlani
The villagers of al Ja’ashin were represented by Saeed al-Ibbi and Mohammed al-Khawlani. The community was subjected to illegal taxes and illegal imprisonment by a tyrannical sheik backed up by a personal militia of security forces. Families refusing to submit were expelled from the village three times. The villagers camped out in front of parliament and in the capital for weeks at a time in protest.
In presenting the award, Mr. al Ansi said that Al-Ja’ashin’s accomplishment is that they overcame “historical inherited fear” and challenged Sheikh’s regime.

Fouad Dahaba, a parliamentarian, gave one of the al-Ja’ashin children, Waeel, a copy of the Yemeni constitution. Waeel is 10-year old boy, who escaped from the illegal detention in al-Ja’ashin to find his way to Sana’a alone.

Hamdan al-Dirsi
A laborer, Hamdan al-Dirsi was building a fence when his ordeal began. Al-Dersi was arrested by the sheikh of Hudeida and confined in the sheik’s private jail. Al Dirsi was severely beaten, tortured and sodomized with a stick. Like Anisa al-Shuaibi, he refused to be intimidated by the social ostracism that resulted from publicizing sexual abuse. He spoke about the types of torture he faced in al-Fashiq prison at a press conference held by HOOD.

“HOOD’s award is important for al-Dirsi because he lost his case, but he should know he is a hero by challenging a very powerful sheikh,” said Kawkab al-Thaibani, a member of HOOD and the originator of HOOD’s Award for Human Rights.

“We hope HOOD’s award will continue to spread enthusiasm, and we hope that there will come a day that HOOD won’t find victims to honor, because no one will violate their rights,” al-Anisi concluded.

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