Heavy-Handed Police Action in Mukalla! DOUBLE STANDARDS? [Archives:1997/46/Last Page]

November 17 1997

The city of Mukalla has become a hot spot for anti-regime demonstrations these days. Day after day, varying number of citizens have taken to the streets protesting against the authorities. The military commander of the region, in collaboration with the governor and other senior officials, ordered soldiers to take positions in order to control the demonstrations. As a precautionary measures, many of the political leaders have been arrested. At last count, there were some 22 persons in jail because of ‘their efforts in inciting the general public’. In addition, tactics involving harassment and intimidation have been used to bring about ‘law and order’.
Due to this recent development in Mukalla, and because of the bomb explosions in July and october in Aden, the number of southern political activists who languish in the jails of Yemen is rising steadily. A quick visit to some of the prisons, like the jail next to the Investigations Office in Sanaa will give a clear indication. Many of these people, including some businessmen, are held up in jail for months based on allegations that they are presently involved in, or are financing anti-state activities. As a matter of fact, the rash of bombs that hit Aden during July and October, 1997 cannot be but terroristic in nature. The terrorists and other associated criminals have to be dealt with. But, that does not mean using torture and indefinite imprisonment without trial. The rights of those accused need to be protected. Some of them have been in prison for months without having been brought to trial. This contradicts the laws of Yemen. Nobody is asking the government to be soft on terrorists or criminals or other law-breakers. But, if the authorities break the law themselves, how can they have the upper moral hand in this duel? It is absolutely imperative that the laws of the land are respected, and the first action in that direction is to hold public trials for those accused of the offence.
There is another dimension to this business. At the same time that the authorities are acting tough on the southerners who are accused of breaking the law, they are visibly soft on the many northern tribes which have acted against the system, and against law and order. Many northern tribes have kidnapped foreigners, cut off main highways, attacked government posts and looted them, etc. Yet, no real or serious action has been taken by the authorities against them. The legitimacy of any system is based on certain legal and moral values. Key among these is the concept of equal treatment of citizens, irrespective of their geographic, racial or tribal backgrounds. In the way the Yemeni authorities are handling themselves at the moment, one can safely conclude that there is no equal treatment of citizens. There are those who will claim that the authorities do not actually engage in discrimination among Yemeni citizens based on a premeditated policy. If that were the case, the officials need to do something tangible to prove it.
There are also those who might say that the discrimination is not really due to geographic or tribal origin of the citizens; but due to the perceived brute force and power of the people to fight back. In other words, the state avoids getting into confrontations with armed tribes, while it victimizes unarmed civilians. If that is true, then this rotten policy invites civilian Yemeni citizens to start carrying arms and to fight the state. Whatever the case, a large majority of the Yemeni people feel they have an unjust security system. To add insult to injury, the security apparatus is also inefficient and highly corrupt. The people of Mukalla, Aden and other southern cities, and even the citizens of other cities in the northern republics have the right to express their disgust with the politicians and the system. By applying a heavy-handed approach, the authorities will not solve the problem. They’ll simply make things worse!