Parliamentary committee visits prisons in Taiz [Archives:2003/671/Reportage]

September 25 2003
Tough questions asked by the parliamentary committee during the visit
Tough questions asked by the parliamentary committee during the visit
By Farouq Moqbil
Yemen Times Staff,

September 24 – In order to inspect conditions of jails in Taiz governorate and bring solutions to common problems faced by prisons, the parliamentary committee for human rights and freedoms paid a 3-day visit to a number of prisons in Taiz last week.

Touring prisons
The committee members, who included Mr. Mohammed Rashad Al-Alimi, Shawqi Al-Qadhi, Mohamed Al-Arhabi, Abdullah Al-Ghader, Ahmed Aidha, and the committee's general manager Abdullah Al-Sara visited security stations, crime investigation bureaus, central prisons of Taiz and Turba. The team inspected prison cells and health conditions of every prisoner. They also distributed papers and forms to be filled by the prisoners and administrations of the prisons. The information requested from prisoners was focused on the sex of the prisoners, their charges, sentences and the periods spent so far.
Upon the completion of the visit, the committee is expected to submit a full report about the prisons based on what they saw to the parliament. Among the main problems observed was the lack of enough space to have large numbers of prisoners, shortage of health services, shortage in food and water, lack of rehabilitation programs needed for prisoners about to leave prison, so they could be integrated once again to the community.
There were cases of prisoners who could have been released earlier if they had a certain amount of money to be paid as wergild. The committee proposed to raise those amounts and have them released.

Financial issues
Mohammed Rashad Al Alimi, one of the members of the committee and head of the Taiz committee delegation said, “We have come to conclude that many of the prisoners we saw were kept far beyond their period of sentence because they couldn't pay amounts due.” He added that the committee members were shocked to realize that the amounts, needed to have them released, were not that significant.
As for the prisoners who needed to pay high wergilds before they can be released, the committee said it would discuss their issue and try to come up with appropriate solutions, possibly by raising funds with the help of international human rights organizations.
On his part, Mr. Shawqi Al-Qadhi, also a member of the committee said that many problems observed were not related to prison administration, but rather the judicial system through which sentences could be pending or undecided for years. He said the committee is committed to submit the report that includes all those problems.

Inhuman solitude prisons
On Sunday, 21 September, the committee also visited the Taiz Crime investigations bureau and met with its administration and staffers. The committee members expressed their concern about the six solitude prisons, which are a major source of agony for prison cells in the city. However, the administration said that the prison cells are never used any more. However, citizens in the city expressed fear that they may be used again. The committee members stressed that they should be demolished as they are supposed to be illegal in a country that strives for democracy and human rights, especially as they were only used before unification and should be illegal in today's Yemen.
Hundreds of files concerning human rights violations in Taiz were raised to the committee, including an outrageous case of a prisoner, Wahid Ali Mohammed, who has been in prison for three years in the central prison of Turba, a town 100 km south of Taiz City, for the crime of breaking a car window. He was also obliged to pay YR 22,000 in compensation.
The committee members have come to conclude that tens of thousands of rials were paid to hold symposiums, seminars, and other activities that did not have any positive effect whatsoever on the status of prisons and prisoners in Taiz governorate.
Around 150 Ethiopians were also found in the central prison of Taiz. Among them were 40 women neglected with no reference to go to. Most of those Ethiopians end up in Yemeni prisons after coming into the country through illegal means with the hope of using the country as a first stop before reaching Saudi Arabia where they dreamed of a happy future. They arrived to Taiz with no identity, money, or clothes.
Prisoners visited by the committee have expressed hope in that the committee members will be able to deliver the true bitter picture as they saw it so as to bring solutions quickly.
Ahmed Aydha, another community member said that the visit was quite helpful in getting a clear idea of what the conditions truly are. “We guarantee to deliver the facts as they are, and let Yemenis know the truth.” he said.