Peasants plight ongoing despite protest [Archives:2008/1134/Front Page]

March 3 2008

Saddam Al-Ashmouri
For the Yemen Times

IBB, March 2 ) The National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, known as “HOOD”, is planning a sit-in on Monday in front of the Ministry of Local Administration to demonstrate solidarity with the Ja'ashin citizens of Ibb governorate, who HOOD claims suffer from cruel practices by powerful sheikh Mohammed Ahmad Mansour.

Khalid Al-Anisi, a lawyer, human rights activist and Executive Director of the organization, said the protestors would send a letter to Parliament explaining Parliament members (MPs) how they are continuously mistreated by the powerful sheikh and his followers.

Al-Anisi claimed the government should establish police stations throughout the plagued district and prevent Mansour from treating the area's citizens according to his famous saying: “I am the government I am the state.”

According to the human rights activist, the imprisonment of citizens by the influential sheikh in private jails is a banned crime in accordance with constitutional article 48. He continued that the constitution also prohibits zakat (alms voluntarily given to the poor according to Islamic law) collection by any person or agency, adding that the government has competent agencies and workers who are tasked to collected zakat.

Lawyer Abdul-Rahman Barman, one of the organization's staff members, accused Mansour of committing constitutional crimes, asking Parliament to immediately investigate him, indicating that among the crimes practiced by Al-Jaashin Sheikh are imprisoning citizens in private jails, levying taxes on locals, banning their movements and confiscating their lands and livestock.

He revealed that his organization is holding the Ibb local authorities accountable for the consequences of Mansour's inhuman behavior, pointing out that these authorities failed to provide adequate protection to a previous committee formed by Parliament to examine the situation and resolve the issue. reported that dozens of Ja'ashen citizens started a series of sit-ins and protests last week, which were held in front of Yemeni Parliament on Wednesday. The locals protested against what they described as “constitutional violations” committed by the oppressive sheikh, who is also a member of the Shura Council, against them.

The protestors raised slogans demanding that Parliament intervene to end their constant suffering and put a stop to the illegal practices the influential sheikh practices against them. According to the Ja'ashen locals, Mansour forces them to pay money to him under the guise of zakat, and if they refuse to pay the money, he then throws them in his private jails.

The most recent sit-in led to forming a parliamentary committee on Wednesday in charge of discussing complaints raised by Ja'ashen locals, who evacuated their homes and came to protest in Sana'a, and examining their situation.

“Despite informing public prosecution on Tuesday about the arbitrary practices we are suffering and the looting exercised by the tyrannous sheikh in the Ja'ashen area, with a population estimated at tens of thousands, neither it nor other relevant government agencies could stop his campaign of confiscating citizens' cows, sheep and other property,” one protestor at Parliament said on condition of anonymity. “Even women and children were subjected to attacks and beatings by the sheikh's followers, who did so with the intention of forcing dozens of citizens, holding a sit-in in front of the governorate's premises, to return home and quit protesting against the tribal sheikh. The oppressive man also takes any citizens returning from protests to his private jail.”

According to the protester, many Ja'ashen citizens found themselves obliged to abandon their homes, and women and children under the sheikh's control, and move to Sana'a to inform Parliament of their sufferings. They decided to travel to Sana'a after seeing that the Ibb local authorities failed to help liberate them from ten years of oppression by the influential sheikh.

“The sheikh is supposed to act as the custodian of the law and is not an ordinary person unaware of the law, as he is an advisor to the president. However, the irony is that he is the predator in these crimes,” local media quoted Yemeni columnist Mohammad al-Qadhi as saying. “I wonder where the Interior minister and his long list of “great achievements” stand here.”

“Can the Interior Minister show us how he will produce a real achievement by protecting these helpless citizens? Can the president and Interior minister hold the man accountable for violating law and order? Can they bridle the tyranny of this influential sheikh and others like this man?” Al-Qadhi added.

Parliament formed a committee on Wednesday to investigate Al-Jaashin citizens' grievances and complaints against the sheikh. The committee, however, could not do anything against the influential tribal leader.

Last month, Mansour arrested two teachers while on duty at their school and put them in his private prison after they refused to give him the deeds to their lands. In late February, about 70 families were forced by Mansour to flee their homes because they refused to pay him an annual collective zakat amount of three million riyals ($15,000). They said they had already paid zakat to the local authority. The villagers were forced to camp in a nearby deserted area with few provisions for seven days.

The sheikh is the same man who put a parliamentary candidate from the socialist party in jail simply because he decided to run against his son. He wanted all the Ja'ashin citizens to vote for only one candidate, his son.

A year ago, the Ja'ashin citizens dispatched a letter to Ibb's governor, demanding that he put an end to infringements practiced against them by the oppressive sheikh. The letter read that Mansour blocked drinking water pipes from their village and demanded the governor to immediately end the trouble and bear the responsibility for protecting their lives.

The citizens said in a call to the Yemeni media that they want Yemen's government to resolve their problem, end the ongoing violations in their area, change local officials, and prevent the sheikh from intervening in their affairs, public services and retirement funds.