Cases of brutality against street vendors in Yemen [Archives:2005/888/Local News]

October 24 2005

(News-Yemen) Oct 25, Sana'a – When Mohamed Ragheb said he was too naive in believing the official rhetoric about the government's policy in preventing torture and assault against citizens by security and military apparatuses and respecting human rights, he apparently had a point.

When Ragheb saw about 10 police officers violently dragging a 7-year-old street seller in one of the streets of Sana'a, he could not tolerate the inhumane treatment of the child and attempted to interfere to stop the abuse. But just as he was about to do so, Ragheb was threatened by one of the police officers, “You ought to beat the hell out of here or you will get something that won't please you.”

But because he didn't obey the policeman's orders and dared to gently suggest to the officers not to beat the child, Ragheb was taken into the police pickup car and was beaten up severely while on the way to the police station. When he arrived to the Muallimi police station, he underwent another round of beating until most of his body was bruised or injured. He was only released when his father came to the station to apologize for his son's behavior in interfering in policemen's work while on duty.

The medical report that Ragheb holds indicates that he was beaten unconscious by rifle butts, resulting in large scratches on his face, neck and above his left eye. He later started complaining about back and knee pain.

Weeks after the incident, another young man, Yasser Farhan, explained how he was beaten severely at the Alaya police station in Sana'a after his foe paid money to police officers and soldiers in the station to force Farhan and a colleague of his to confess to a crime, which he never committed and which was proven to be false by the authorities.

Farhan said he was subject to torture and humiliation by the investigation officer, and was taken by two soldiers to the roof of the police station only to be beaten up again. When questioned about those claims, the police officer admitted that Farhan “only received three slaps on the face because he was too philosophical and instigating.”

But the nightshift duty officer of the same police station said he could not provide any information because of “superior orders not to talk to non-governmental media”.

The police station's chief ridiculed what he called a “media exaggerations” and said “We are in Yemen, not in Iraq's Abu Ghraib's prison”, stressing that those policemen accused of torture were sent to a disciplinary council.

Cases of assault and torture in Yemeni official and non-official prisons and police and judicial centers are frequently reported. A few of those cases make it to the attorney office; among them was the case of Sami Al-Sharjabi, who was severely tortured at the criminal investigation bureau in Taiz. However, after more than a year and half since it was initially brought to the attention of the authorities, it still could not be transferred to the judiciary because of pressure exerted by the Ministry of Interior to prevent prosecution for alleged immunity of security officers according to the 'effective regulations'.

Stories of abuse and torture by security men have gained publicity in Yemen in the last few years as means of corruption enabled rich or powerful individuals to use their money or influence to target certain people for individual vengeance or other motives.

The South East First Instance Court continues to try three security men for killing street vendor Mujahid Al-Samhi, who was beaten to death after being chased by municipality officers accompanying police security officers. The family of Al-Samhi did not yield to pressure by authorities to resolve the dispute peacefully through a traditional mutual compensation agreement. This was in contrast to a similar case of the murder of street seller Burhan, whose case was closed when his issue was resolved tribally after compensation was paid to his family.

Police forces continue to chase and imprison unlicensed street vendors, who fill the streets of the capital city due to a widening margin of unemployment. This trend is observed even more evidently during the holy month of Ramadan during which vendors seize the opportunity of large masses of shoppers, and run their seasonal business with the risk of being caught, beaten up, imprisoned, or potentially killed.

Governmental reports have continuously denied that the beating up and torturing of prisoners or law violators is a common trend and called those incidents “isolated cases that do not reflect a common government policy.” However, this claim was rejected by some academicians in a debate forum held to discuss the 2004 National Human Rights Report. Some participants in the discussion said that the governmental excuse was weak because “low-ranking officers would not have dared [to torture victims] without consent from the top.”

This comes in a time Amnesty International had started a campaign entitled “No to torture and abuse in the War on Terror”. The campaign is expected to continue until April 2006, when the international pro-human rights organization is expected to release its report on torture and present it to the concerned committee at the United Nations.

The Amnesty International campaign is expected to concentrate on torture cases that have been unveiled and those still secret in six countries: USA, UK, Indonesia, Jordan, Italy, and Yemen.

The organization is drumming up public support for its campaign to pressurize those six countries to respect human rights and end cases of torture. It is also working hard to build a strong public opinion against the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, which it hopes would be closed down for being an illegal prison that resembles 'the gulag of our time'.