Murky Conditions Prevalent  In Sanaa Central Prison [Archives:2000/22/Reportage]

May 29 2000

By Yemen Times
Prisons have undeniably a significant role to play in all civilized societies. However, instead of being a system of rehabilitating perverts, prisons in our country have become more like a mechanism to inflict slow death. Once prisoners are thrown in jails, they acquire perverted manners having to live in close association with dangerous criminals. It is a well-known fact that criminals are not classified in our country. Therefore, innocent people and dreaded murderers all live under one roof and eat the same food on the same table. Just imagine how the state of an innocent poor unlucky citizen would be in such a dreadful atmosphere.
Now, let us take Sana’a Central Prison as an example. This prison is designed to accommodate 900 persons. Currently, there are more than 2300 persons jammed in this prison excluding 600 employees and guards. As a result of this, a room, with a 32 square meters area, is used to accommodate 46 prisoners. This crowded atmosphere creates a fitting atmosphere for diseases to spread easily and quickly. At present, a majority of prisoners in the Central Prison as other prisoners are diagnosed to suffer from pulmonary tuberculosis, not to mention all other sorts of diseases and illnesses.
For the time being let us forget about what was just mentioned and take a close look at the services that the Prisons Authority provides to prisoners. Those services include nutrition, medical care, training, cleanliness, rehabilitation as well as many others. Can you ever believe that the Yemeni government in the Ministry of Interior allocates a 30 YR daily allowance for each prisoner? This meagre sum covers all services which are stated above. As a matter of fact, this was the allocated amount for each prisoner until 1998. After then and until now, the daily allowance of each prisoner does not exceed 100 YR. Therefore, one cannot help thinking of how horrible the case of prisoners who do not have families and friends in the city would be. These have no visitors who would give them food, drinks and medicine once in a while.
According to the estimate of the Prisons Authority, there are 21 state prisons in Yemen which accommodate approximately 10,000 prisoners. Of this number there are 221 women (60 in Sana’a), 146 juvenile prisoners and 117 foreigners. The government has allocated 3 Billion YR for prisoners this year. 170 million YR of this amount is channeled to build a central prison in Marib, 154 to build a central prison in Amran and 142 to build a central prison in Dale’e. Now, the question is: will this entire amount be used for serving the comfort of the prisoners ignoring what it was allocated for.
There are many stories which we would have liked to present to our readers but we are in want of space. In addition, we alone cannot continue investigating the conditions of prisons in Yemen because of the dangers that would be involved in this search.
Some one might ask what is the role of local, regional and international human rights organizations in solving this problem? The answer is clear and simple. These organizations are simply decorative and are nothing more or less. Usually the people who work in these organizations are divided in two types. The first type constitutes the frustrated who cannot do any thing else and the others are the ones who use their organizations to make easy money.
In this report the Yemen Times tries to raise awareness about this case so as to carve out a probable solution. The conditions of prisoners must be improved. We must implement all that was stated in the International Declaration for Human Rights. The international agreements that are related to this topic are also stated in the sixth article of the Yemeni constitution.
This is not the first time for this case to be discussed. So many different local and international media have talked about it until they ran out of steam. Despite all the different calls, the efforts to improve prisons conditions in Yemen have come to no avail.
The Yemen Times in its connection met Ahmed Al-Mowaled, Deputy Director of the Prisons Authority.
Q: What is the role of the Prisons Authority?
A: The Prisons Authority is one of the institutions that works under the authority of the Ministry of Interior headed by the Minister who sets the policies of the ministry in general. This authority is independent financially and administratively to tackle issues concerning prisons all over the country like nutrition, education, health and rehabilitation.
Q: How much does the Ministry of Interior allocate annually for the Prison Authority budget?
A: We have construction, nutrition, health and transportation budgets and each has certain specific amount of allocation.
Q: What is the number of prisons in Yemen?
A: There are 21 prisons in Yemen. Therefore, we started separating those who are still being interrogated and those who are under trial. Several prisons for provisional detentions are being constructed and all illegal prisons have been done away with. Our authority is only responsible for central prisons.
Q: What is the number of prisoners in Yemen and how many of them are women?
A: Administrators of prisons could give you the accurate number of prisoners. As for women they are very few forming 4% of the total number of prisoners.
Q: What about prisons for juvenile offenders?
A: A youth reform society was established in Sana’a to take care of juvenile cases. In addition, a part of the Central Prison was changed into a youth reform and care center and it is supervised by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Q: In regard to juvenile offenders who committed murder crimes, we learned that one was sentenced to death and executed although he was not even 18. Is this true?
A: This is absolutely baseless. It is neither allowed by our Sharia nor our laws.
Q: How much is the daily allowance earmarked for each prisoner? Do you have separate allowance reports for each of them?
A: We have a daily allowance for each prisoner and the Administrative Affairs Department determines the amount of wheat, teaÉetc in grams per head.
Q: What is the main task of a prison?
A: It is to carry out sentences awarded by law courts. It is also a means of training and rehabilitating criminals. For this purpose, we have several training and other facilities established. The authorities have built two schools as well as a carpentry and sewing workshops inside the prison.
Q: Why does not the Prisons Authority work on establishing libraries for prisoners to provide opportunities to learn?
A: The ministry works in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture and Information and Ministry of Education to establish a school. We cannot hold any authority lack of a certain facility. Now, we are trying to find teachers, book and technicians to wore in the field of training and updating the level of education.
Q: Why are executions held inside prisons? Don’t you think that this could have negative effects on other prisoners?
A: What is most important to us is carrying out the execution sentence. In addition, here in Yemen we allow the family of the murdered person to attend the execution. People who have killed other people in cold blood wouldn’t be affected at the gunfire during the execution.
Q: Why does not the Prisons Authority try to find sociologists?
A: There are some sociologists financed by some sponsoring organizations to visit the prisoners.
Q: Do you think prisons in Yemen are well prepared to accommodate prisoners in view of the fact that some rooms contain more than 40 inmates?
A: We have established prisons for provisional detention in order to annul all other form of custody in police stations and prosecutions.
Q: Why doesn’t the administration prohibit prisoner from chewing Qat?
A: The administration prohibits employees and soldiers from chewing Qat, but we really cannot prohibit prisoners. However, we can study this problem and find a solution to it.
Q: When will the Prisons Authority work for classifying prisoners and organize their imprisonment period?
A: There is a classification system followed in all central prisons. We classify prisoners according to whether they have committed big crimes or minor crimes. This is done by a wing of the prosecution which is found in every central prison.
Q: Diseases spread in prisons; How could this problem be tackled?
A: We have doctors appointed by the Ministry of Health and there are about a dozen of them. We really have not received any report in this regard.
Q: Why doesn’t the Prison Authority follow the cases of some prisoners which reportedly linger for years and the prisoner is forgotten?
A: There is an organ of the prosecution that takes care of these procedures regarding the period each prisoner will have to spend in prison. The problem is that we receive people who are either still being interrogated or are undergoing trials. Though we try our best to exclusively keep central prisons for prisoners who have been awarded their sentence.