Our lopsided justice system [Archives:2005/901/Opinion]

December 8 2005

Hassan Al-Haifi
One of the most interesting news items last week was the sentencing of an Iraqi, allegedly caught red handed with hundreds of valuable antiquities and other contraband or illegal items. This man has been under surveillance for two years and was even caught snooping on one senior official, who simply would be the last person anyone would dare snoop on. The man was caught earlier this year as he was leaving Aden International Airport, with all those goodies and then some.

Thanks to the pleasant side of the news that our security forces are really alert to such evil visitors, who forget that Yemeni hospitality can only go so far in showing the warmth and generosity of the Yemeni people. So, since that time, one would think that the Prosecution was building up a strong case against the Iraqi man, who forgot that antiquities are to be seen by the eyes and are the eternal property of the Yemeni people. After all, aren't there enough antiquities in Iraq that the man can pick up, especially in these wonderful days of chaos and lawlessness in Iraq, where all kinds of criminals are having a field day, thanks to an American invasion-turned-occupation that has left Iraq in – literally – a mess. No matter, our antique thief felt it is better to make a start in a new territory that is still virgin to such sophisticated vices as stealing the hard work of our ancestors and maybe our friend just couldn't find any more Iraqi antiquities, because the Americans had made it easier for all Iraqi antiquities thieves to make their big catches at the end of the invasion – start of the occupation.

Now we come to the real nitty gritty of the story. Here is a foreigner caught with a big catch of precious antiques, who has been tailed for over two years now and who was even caught snooping on very important officials of state. So, what did he get for such highly daring crimes and mysterious snooping: a mere 1-year prison sentence. That is really a reward and not a punishment by any books and our friend should really be thankful at the kind mercy of His Honor, who was probably intrigued by the daring of the man. Imagine that; one year for so much criminal and suspicious espionage. Yet, we have two Yemeni men, who have gone through such a horrible ordeal for more than a year now, who have never committed a crime, who have faced trial under uncertain charges that have no weight in any Court in any real democratic state, their rights violated a million times over, end up with a sentence of execution and a harsh prison term of eight years. With the way executions have been going these days, and the appeal of the defendants thrown out the window, the likelihood is that Hussein Al-Dailamy might just be executed as well. As the last recent executions of Shahari and Huraish have shown, there is no hope in an appeal by Amnesty International and many in the local and international community for saving the lives of those who have been sentenced to death, under dubious charges. For people like Hussein Al-Dailami, this would certainly be an inexcusable execution, to a man who is known for his piety and anti-terrorism and anti-extremism. Yet our justice system deems whatever unsubstantiated charges worthy of the worst punishment – the executioner's sword or bullets. It is hard to find the balance between this and the very mild sentence of the Iraqi who was supposedly caught with unmistakable evidence that depicts that his crime was far more than a serious driving violation, which is what he was sentenced for more or less, rather than for the theft of national treasures and other illicit acts with the tools of the trade right with him. This is justice that would baffle the most studious of law students, as they try to weigh the pros and cons of our judicial system. Mr. Al-Dailami and Mr. Muftah are given such severe sentences for crimes that cannot be seen or demonstrated, which they were tried for, and for ulterior allegations that they were siding with the “Houthi rebellion” in Sa'ada, which are even more harder to prove than the original espionage charges they were confronted with in Court. So, what can one say, had they really been guilty, and caught red-handed with all the evidence needed to give the case some grounds for prosecution, they might have gotten a lighter sentence, with a chance for a quick parole, maybe in a couple of months! After all this is what the very light sentence meted out to the Iraqi thief shows.

There maybe more to it than that, one can be sure, because such sentencing has to be looked at in the mitigating circumstances involved. The truth of the matter is that there is a lot of stealing of antiquities going on in Yemen and it involves a lot of people in the government and the higher echelons of our complicated tribal and social structure. This observer once interviewed a senior tourist authority official and he flatly pointed out that there are illegal tunnels being dug in various potential historical sites and the tunnels are being dug after some of the engineers in the oil industry point their seismic gear to potential vacuums underground in these sites. He also pointed out that such operations have the blessings of some very important people. After the interview, he was quite certain that he would be out looking for a new job. He was not wrong there and indeed, within a couple of weeks he lost his important position in the General Authority for Tourism for simply hinting – he gave no names or even details – that our antiquities are being robbed with the blessings of some of the big shots in the land, if not their full-fledged support.

That the Iraqi was caught truly demonstrates that there are those in our security organs who are really alert and wish to make sure that our national treasures stay home, but apparently because of our politicized judicial process, all their efforts went down the drain. So, does that mean that good people could never get a chance at a fair adjudication, while those who have evil written all over their face can rest assured that their protectors will make sure they come out of the judicial process with honors. Al-Dailami and Muftah are well known to their constituencies as good, honest servers of God and loyal to their country, but the fact is they have no protectors, nor is their crime worthy of assuring deterrence, because the kinds of crimes they are charged with are not tangible or attractive to anyone, like the lucrative trade in antiquities, which obviously remains without any deterrence in our lopsided judicial system.