Around the country in search of the missing guarantee [Archives:2007/1081/Front Page]

August 30 2007

By:Nisreen Shaddad
SANA'A, August 29 ) Seven Yemenis from Hajja including three children aged 15 years old are detained in Hajja central prison for up to five months. They are imprisoned on grounds of potential terrorist activities that they may do in the future. In order for the security committee lead by Hajja governor to ensure stability in the governorate, he demanded, that before the detainees can be released, they must first present a guarantee of 'good behavior' promising not to indulge in future terrorist acts, especially relating to Al-Houthi.

The so-called 'good behavior' guarantee traveled from Al-Miftah district in Hajja where the local sheikhs endorsed it, to the main city, to the central prison security, to the political security office, to the governor's office. Then it traveled to Sana'a where the governor and his deputies came for government business, and now it is on its way back to Hajja with the destination of the local council's office.

The reason why this document has been traveling around is no one has accepted it yet: each time it is presented someone finds fault with it. Ghailb Al-Ahnumi, a father of one of the detainees, has taken up the responsibility to travel with the document from one place to the place. He wonders what he is supposed to do and where to deliver the precious document that holds the hope for his sons' and many others' freedom.

However, Hajja governor Muhammad Abdullah Al-Harazi says he is willing to accept this guarantee provided it is endorsed by the local council. Yemen Times has a copy of the endorsed document by the local council, so what is it really that the government is looking for?

“We had asked them for the guarantee since long, but we feel they are stalling. Some people are trying to keep those detainees in prison for personal reasons and in order to make the government look bad,” Al-Harazi said.

“I have prepared the guarantee of 'good behavior'. It is signed and endorsed by a Sheik and three members of the local council, but no body wants it. The security officer has said the guarantee should be signed by a businessman. We did that, but still it is not enough,” complained Al-Ahnumi.

This is not the only excuse Al-Ahnumi and other relatives of the detainees had been given. It seems there is a communication gap between the various authority figures in Hajja, because none of them indicated to Yemen Times that they had been coordinating with the other on this case.

“It is an unethical political game. I met with the governor and he denied there are any children among the detainees. However, I visited the prison and found at least three who are aged 15. When I confronted him, he said they may be young but their minds are polluted with Houthi thoughts,” said MP Ahmed Saif Hashid who had been following issues of illegal detention as a part of his job at the Freedoms and Human Rights committee at the Parliament.

However, governor Al-Harazi said that this is a state of instability where they were given “instructions” from the president to ensure Houthis do not succeed in spreading the Sa'ada war to neighboring governorates, such as Hajja.

“We had talks with the local citizens and agreed with them that it is their responsibility toward their country to make sure no rebels or insurgents infiltrate the local community. We asked them that if they found anything suspicious they should report it to us immediately,” said Al-Harazi.

He also said that his office received a petition signed by the locals some months ago requesting the government not to allow religious schools and fundamentalists to operate in their area. This is why they closed down the religious schools and detained over 40 of its students and teachers. Yemen Times is trying to get hold of this alleged petition to confirm the governor's statement.

According to Hashid, if the country is going through a state of instability, then it should declare it a national emergency, or local emergency in Hajja. In that case, the government would be on the safe side detaining people on mere suspicion – as they have done in the case of the seven detainees.

But according to Hajja governor all the detainees have proper case files that includes evidence against them. Although a member of the prosecution authority told MP Hashid they do not hold any evidence against any of the detainees and that they are the “territory” of the political security apparatus.

Though demanding a guarantee from the detainees is illegal, the conditions in Sa'ada has become the justification for that, according to Al-Harazi. “According to the law the guarantee must not be demanded unless the prisoners are referred to the prosecution and proved the prisoners are guilty, says Ahmed Arman, the executive secretary of the National organization for Defending Freedoms and Rights.

“The problem we face is that any person could tip off the security about another without real evidence. Houthism has become an excuse to arrest and prosecute people sometimes for personal grudges. Then it becomes the arrested person's responsibility to prove his innocence or guarantee not to commit any terrorist acts in the future,” said a teacher who used to teach at one of the religious dawaween (school) before being shut down by the government.

“The courses being taught in these dawaween are actually the courses have been taught in the Great Mosque in Sana'a. I studied in the Great Mosque the Islamic sciences and legitimacy and I am also teaching the teachers in al-Miftah district. If the similar courses taught in the Great Mosque in Sana'a are licensed, but ours are not his means something different,” he added.