Picture Behind the Bars [Archives:2000/19/Reportage]

May 8 2000

2nd in a Series
In the last issue we pointed out to a number of flagrant violations of human rights and dismal suffering caused to the prisoners inside the Central Prison. There are a number of innocent prisoners who stay inside the prison for a number of years. They suffer untold misery and some of them turn mad or grow old languishing in the murky prison cells.
Yemen Times discussed all those problems with the Director of the Central Prison, Brigadier Saleh Abdulhabib who was earlier the Vice- Director of Police College in Aden.
Yemen Times projected the indescribable conditions of the prisons in terms of health care, food, dwelling, education. Furthermore, it discussed the state of women’s prisons and those for juvenile offenders. All of us know that prisons in Yemen are in a very shabby condition. They need appropriate budget provisions by prisons authorities to salvage the intolerable situation inside them. Statistics indicate that out of 3500 prisoners in the prisons of the country, about 2300 are in the Central Prison in Sana’a, which includes 40 women prisoners. In addition, there are 150 prisoners who were sentenced to death ten years ago, but these sentences have not been implemented yet. There are so many other related problems we discussed with the Director of the prisons, who plays an important role in management of the prisons.
Brigadier Saleh said the Central Prison is exclusively meant for prisoners who are arrested by authorities concerned. Regarding the basic minimum amenities inside the prisons he said: ” Separation of prisoners is necessary. We would like to give priority to this problem because it is impossible to put all prisoners together. In addition, we face a lot of problems created by prisoners who gather at one place and talk about the different kinds of crimes. This means that each prisoner has to be put in a separate cell according to the scale of his crime. But it is necessary to carry out extension in the number of cells in the prison in order to accommodate them”. He adds: ” There are a lot of immoral things indulged in by prisoners because there is no segregation among them. Each prisoner helps the other committing these crimes”.
Regarding prisoners’ conditions, and their dwelling, he said: ” the Central Prison’s capacity is between 1200- 1300, but the prisoners who are inside far out number the capacity. We can not study the condition of prisoners due to this huge number. This creates a lot of problems for visitors. There must be a specific schedule for visit because unregulated visits create problems for other prisoners and disturb law and order inside the prison. It creates psychological problems for those prisoners who are from distant governorates and do not have any relatives to visit them.
This unwieldy number of prisoners causes several crises. There are 46 prisoners in each ward. The length of the ward is 8×4 meters. It is necessary for the prison authorities to provide new furniture. Previously, each prisoner used to get two blankets a year, but now everything has changed”. Regarding health care facilities inside the Central Prison, brigadier Saleh said: ” One of the formidable problems in the prison is that there is no clinic where prisoners can receive their treatment because some of them suffer from diseases. So, as I mentioned before, it is necessary to separate prisoners, but we do not have these facilities. We have only one clinic where minor first aids are provided. We notified the Ministry of Health about the urgent need to upgrade this clinic. The Ministry accepted our proposal in principle, but it is difficult to get the necessary infrastructure for a clinic.
To make prisoner lead a healthy life, it is necessary to ensure cleanliness in his food, drink, and clothes. Further, the health workers in the health center are unqualified. There are a lot of women who suffer from different health hazards. Some of them are serving life sentences. There is a nurse who comes to treat them, but does not discharge her duties properly. There is no separate clinic for women prisoners and if one of them falls sick, she can receive treatment outside the prison. Repaying to a question about investigations carried out at night, he flatly denied the allegation. There were reports of immoral practices committed against women, but we have taken necessary precautionary measures. We put women in special wards and maintain strict vigil there. We have separate schools for men and women. There are 160 students who study the Qur’an. Furthermore, there is a school for women to fight illiteracy, and a workshop for carpentry and sewing. We allow a prisoner to continue his academic studies”. There are many cases pending hearing by law courts. There are prisoners who have finished their prison terms, but courts have not acquitted them. We follow all these matters by keeping in touch with prosecution to release prisoners. On the other hand, there are no psychologists or social rehabilitationists who can help prisoners by counseling them.
I would like to mention those prisoners who exhibit brutal conduct inside the prison. In such case, we are forced to bind them. While repeated visits by prisoners’ relatives create problems, chewing qat amongst prisoners is also a problem that we can not overcome easily. So, we request to physically separate prisoners to avoid more problems and protect prisoners from such malpractices. We also call upon the authorities and international organizations to provide succor to prisoners in dire need of them because prisons pathetically lack many basic provisions.
There are such financial problems which can be solved to some extent with support from charitable societies. We appreciate charitable societies for the cooperation and assistance we have received, but we hope to receive more assistance.
Regarding juveniles prisoners, they were put together with old prisoners, but now we have separated them. Juveniles are put in guidance schools. All this was implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and Social Insurance. There are 48 juveniles who attend school and 13 of them are still in that school because they committed crimes. Juveniles live now in separated wards. They are allowed to go out except in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon.