The mysterious case of Jamil Dehbash:Prisoner who died of unknown causes was buried without permission [Archives:2008/1176/Reportage]

July 28 2008

Nisreen Shadad
For The Yemen Times

Jamil Mohammed Dehbash had been imprisoned for approximately three years at Al-Thawra Prison when he died at age 23 and was buried before anyone had the chance to investigate the cause of his death.

Dehbash is just one of innumerable prisoners who have died after allegedly being tortured and not given medical treatment. His body was buried without permission from the Public Prosecution Office, however, his mother and human rights activists from the National Organization for Protecting Rights and Freedoms, known as HOOD, are seeking to change this practice. “There are no accurate statistics about the number of prisoners who are tortured or have died while in prison because people don't complain,” says Khalid Al-Anisi, executive director of HOOD. “They think, 'If your opponent is the judge, whom do you bring suit against?'”

Dehbash's older brother and uncle had him arrested for disobedience to his parents. “The police refused to jail him because he had committed no crime, so his older brother accused him of stealing,” Dehbash's mother, Um Jamil, recounted.

“According to an eyewitness, he experienced numerous types of torture in prison,” Dehbash's lawyer Yasser Allawo says.

“In his last days, my son told me that he would be killed, showing me a stab wound on his neck and a bruise on his shoulder,” Dehbash's mother recalled.

“The medical examiner first told me that my son had died from torture, but after a few days, he [changed and] said he had committed suicide by hanging himself,” she added.

“Jamil's mother complained to the Public Prosecution, which subsequently ordered the prison facility not to bury [Dehbash's] body until they had investigated his cause of death,” explained Abdulrahman Barman, an attorney working with HOOD, “However, this order didn't reach Al-Thawra Hospital.” Al-Thawra Hospital shares its name but has no affiliation with Al-Thawra Prison, though the two facilities are located near each other.

“We had no order not to bury Dehbash,” Al-Thawra Hospital security officer Ahmed Al-Adlah noted, adding that the hospital had received a Public Prosecution order to conduct a collective burial for several prisoners and Dehbash was buried with them.

Fahd Al-Ahmadi, head of the investigation at Al-Thawra Hospital, explained, “If an individual dies in prison, we immediately take him or her to the hospital. If there's a complaint against the prison, a medical examiner is brought in to examine the cause of death – with the permission of the Public Prosecution.”

Al-Ahmadi denies that Al-Thawra Prison employs any type of torture, noting that if torture was used, it would be done on political prisoners, not petty criminals. However, Al-Anisi says torture of political detainees in Yemeni prisons has decreased because they are under intense media scrutiny, so it has increased with those prisoners who have committed non-political crimes, particularly theft and manslaughter.

A little more than two weeks after his arrest, Dehbash was placed in the prison's mental health ward in September 2004 because he suffered psychological problems and was in need of frequent medical attention, according to documents signed by ward's manager, Mohammed Sallam.

Torture inside prisons has no limits due to weak oversight by both Prosecution and the judiciary, Al-Anisi alleges, further pointing out that the number of prisoners who have died without credible reasons has increased.

The Yemen Times contacted Nabil Shuja'a Al-Din, manager of the investigation unit at Al-Thawra Prison, in an effort to obtain more information about the legality of keeping Dehbash in prison while he suffered physical or psychological illnesses, but Al-Din said he wasn't authorized to provide any information.