HORROR BEHIND BARS Part 1 An Extensive Investigative Report on Sanaa Central Prison in a Series [Archives:2000/18/Reportage]

May 1 2000

By: Yemen Times Staff
Yemen ranks among the first countries in the world regarding violation of human rights and freedoms. Available information on prisons in Yemen makes clear the extent of such violations. Prisoners are subject to various kinds of torture beginning with chains to psychological oppression.
The Central Prison in Sana’a is set here as an example to all concerned and all human rights care organizations.
Creating a new judicial mechanism begins by making available sincere and just judges and promoting the role of judicial monitoring in following up cases in courts and the way they are dealt with.
Innocent people are sent to prison and it is very hard for anyone to help them set free.
Chains have been used by Sheikhs as a means to keep citizens under their thump. However, there have been no solid walls and fences. During the Imam’s regime, prisons were no more than typical rooms or old buildings. In addition, cases were looked into without much delay. But the present scenario of prisons is much more dismal.
The Central Prison in Sana’a was established in 1983 is a case in point. It was set up as a reformatory in which criminals as well as political prisoners before unification were imprisoned. At the same time, prisons in the South of Yemen were even more horrific. They were built to imprison opposition members in grave-like prisons.
In prisons of the North which were divided into governmental, Sheikhs-owned ones and those of the South, citizens were always the victims. Conflicts between the two Yemens also played an important role in the sorry state of prisons in the two Yemens. There was also the fear of collusion with former regimes.
After the unification, shocking stories of prisons in the South as well as the North were unraveled. During the political events of coup d’ tat and assassination of presidents like President Ibrahim Al-Hamdi on October 11 1977, many people were thrown to prisons. A year later, a revolution broke out to overthrow the succeeding regime. Between the two events another President, Al-Ghashmi, was assassinated. A number of political events were also witnessed in the south beginning with confrontation with the north and the bloody massacre of January 1986. In all these events great numbers of people were sent to prison. Some of these prisoners were set free and other died a tragic death inside cells.
Prisons and chains in Yemen is a very complicated story and unraveling it is even more complicated.
In the Central Prison of Sana’a nutrition and health monitoring is still a far cry. Despite the support of world organizations to prisoners estimated at $ 7 per head a day, prisoners suffer from malnutrition and unavailability of medicine.
After unification, pluralism was declared a natural right for all people and a number of prisons in the south were uprooted. However, private prisons or those controlled by Sheikhs of the north are still prevailing. Moreover, some Sheikhs have the right to send people to the central prison of Sana’a. Although this is against the constitution and law of the Ministry of Interior, those Sheikhs even appoint a representative in the central prison to keep vigil over their prisoners.
Many prisoners spend years on flimsy grounds. A man was imprisoned for stealing a tire of a wheelbarrow. After serving a two-year imprisonment he ran mad and was taken to the asylum where he spent another two years, too.
While we were investigating in the Central prison of Sanaa, about 600 peddlers were brought to the prison because they tarnish the image of Yemen as the authorities claim. One of them was screaming. When he was asked why he was screaming, he said that he was afraid of spending years in prison because he had no relatives in Sana’a to follow up his case. An officer there told us that they would imprison them until celebration of the 10th anniversary of unification was over.
Just a week ago, a prisoner died. He was buried by the prison authority who did not even bother to take off the chains from the dead body. When the public heard about this, the grave was reopened to break the chains. Other prisoners found salvation in burning themselves. Three weeks ago, an Ethiopian woman burnt herself with kerosene. Fortunately, she was saved at the nick of the moment.
A similar catastrophic event took place three months ago. A Yemeni prisoner used kerosene to immolate himself.
Prisons are of different levels in Yemen, just like hotels. While some prisoners stay in 1X1 meter-rooms, others chew qat at the officers’ room.
Judges in Yemen also have interesting stories. Once a judge imprisoned a man after having a hot conversation with him inside the court. Half an hour later it was reported that the man died in prison. It was discovered later that he was poisoned.
This week, Saleh Al-Khodri a 70-year old man was sentenced to death after he spent 23 years in prison. His story was narrated to us by his 24-year-old son Abdulsalam, who grew up in prison with his father.
“My father, Saleh Al-Khodri used to live at his home in Hajah. He was a soldier in the Imam’s regime before the revolution of 26 September 1962. Due to some tribal conflicts, he had to leave his home-land for Sana’a. There was a conflict between his sister-in-law and her husband. Due to this conflict his sister-in-law ran away to Sana’a. Her husband, Hizam Al-Khodry went to Sanaa to look for her. He thought that his wife would be hiding in Saleh’s house. He kept coming to Saleh’s house many times but could not find his wife. The third time he came with another man called Qassem Al-Qadhi. My father was hiding. However, when he heard them threatening his wife, he came out. My mother was beaten and this angered my father who soon fired at them. Hizam was killed. This event took place on Ramadhan 27th, 1978. He was arrested and taken to prison. He was in prison from that time without being tried until he was eventually executed in April 2000.
He had four children: Ahlam and Mohammed died of illness. Only Abdullah and I are still alive. I was only two years old when my father was taken to prison. I joined him. I studied until my secondary school in prison.”
Saleh’s case is an example of a corrupt juridical system. Now who will compensate his sons? A question that is still looms large.
To be continued…