Release all illegal detainees now, YT seminar concludes [Archives:2006/1007/Front Page]

December 14 2006

Nadia Al-Sakkaf
SANA'A, Dec. 11 ) Media, lawyers, activities and NGOs and even students participated in Yemen Times' seminar discussing illegal persecution last Monday on the occasion of the International day of the Human Rights Declaration.

Participants at Monday's Yemen Times “Freedom for all” seminar on illegal persecution and detention agreed that the most urgent action that should be taken now is freeing detainees who are detained on illegal grounds by Yemen's security system.

Participants also confirmed the importance of having an independent judiciary system in Yemen. “The problem is that there is a conflict in authority between the judiciary and the security system. By law, no one should be arrested and detained unless there's a judiciary sentence against him. However, what happens is that the security apparatus abducts people – just like the gangs we see in movies – and the kidnapped individuals then are held in political security prisons for months, sometimes years, without even knowing why they're there,” explained Mohammed Sadeq Al-Odaini, director of the Center for Training and Protection of Journalists' Freedom in Sana'a, who spoke about illegal detention of journalists and political activists.

Such persecution appears to be very much event-related, as Al-Odaini mentioned various events during which numerous illegal detentions occurred, such as Sept. 11, 2001 and Al-Qaeda events, Yemeni elections, price hike demonstrations and the Sa'ada conflict, among others.

Political activists, women, children and discriminated minorities such as refugees are among those routinely subject to illegal persecution and detention. Judge Afrah Saleh Ba-Dowailan, head of the Capital Secretariat's Supreme Juvenile Court, admitted that some children under age 18 are being held in adult prisons.

In her paper about illegal arrest and detention of children, she noted that the problems are manifold, saying, “To start with, although Yemen was one of the first nations to ratify the 1991 Convention on the Rights of the Child, there's a gap between the age the convention decided upon for children and local juvenile laws.

“The international convention and Yemeni child laws define a child as being age 18 or under, whereas juvenile law in Yemen states that a child is anyone age 15 or under. Therefore, children between age 16 and 18 are treated as adults according to Yemen's judiciary system,” she explained.

Other problems are represented by lack of sufficient social care centers for 'children in conflict with the law.' Children who commit crimes sometimes are sent to adult prisons in governorates where there's no social center during the custody period or during the trial, Ba-Dowailan said.

“Another dangerous problem is that, in many cases, the families of these troubled children disown them and don't care to bail them out. We've had cases where due to inability to pay legal expenses or compensation, the children remain in prison, despite the fact that they're minors and aren't supposed to be earning money in the first place,” she commented.

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Women have the same problem. “Some women remain in prison for months or even years after they've served their sentences due to not having money to pay the fines or because no male guardian will sign for their release,” said lawyer Ishraq Al-Maqtari, an activist and manager of the advocacy and legal protection for women's rights project initiated by Oxfam-GB.

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In her paper about illegal detention of women, Al-Maqtari noted that Yemen's security system isn't gender-sensitive and is extremely biased against women. For example, female rape victims who report the crime to police stations often are charged with adultery and jailed themselves.

“Their arrest can be very chaotic. I personally have come across a case where a woman was arrested in Taiz because she was walking alone at night. Apparently, security's excuse was that she was doing some scandalous act,” Al-Maqtari angrily remarked.

Women and children are the weakest links, but the security apparatus also illegally discriminates against refugees. Lawyer and human rights activist Khalid Al-Anisi, executive director of HOOD, said, “The law stipulates that anyone setting foot on Yemeni soil and fleeing his or her own country for political, social or economic reasons has the right to refugee privileges. It's not about how they came to Yemen; rather, it's about why they fled their countries and whether they honestly deserve to be treated as refugees.”

In his talk about illegal persecution of refugees, Al-Anisi said two main types of refugees are coming to Yemen: those of African origin – especially Somalis and Ethiopians – due to economic reasons, and those with religious reasons, such as Western Muslims who experience difficulty practicing Islam in their countries.

Some refugees are subject to double discrimination, whether because of their dark skin color or their Islamic faith. “The problem is that there's no law regulating refugee rights, so it's left to the consciences of those in charge,” Al-Anisi concluded.