They Are Slaughtering Democracy [Archives:2001/10/Reportage]

March 5 2001

This is a grave mistake the political system in the country has committed. The GPC legislators might have thought that that could be a live embodiment of sound democracy convenient to the special characteristic of our tribal community, loyal to tribalism rather than to party life.
Compatible with the Yemeni peculiarity, it could have been better making them an arena for free competition among the patriotic symbols, each offers his electoral platform directly to the citizen without interference by political parties and organizations whatsoever, as long as they are administrative and social elections. He who can efficiently convince his constituency, in dependence on his honorable biography and distinguished mentality and knowledge and services offered to his area and tribe, he deserves to be elected and represent them before the government authorities in the governorates and districts. Thus should be the civilized way in dealing with such an affair.


During a visit we have made to Wadi Khuban, Kuhlan and surrounding villages at Rathama area, Ibb Governorate and interviews with some sectors of people there, we have found out that all were completely unsatisfied with this experiment and insist on considering it as bringing catastrophes rather than peace and progress. They have voiced their belief that they have been deceived by the rhetorical phrases and slogans promoted by politicians and people of the authority praising the democratic advancement in the country and the many benefits they would gain and those to be gained by their future generations. Those slogans, they were told, as to be the only savior for them from oppression , poverty and backwardness.
First of all we have interviewed one of those supervising the process of elections and referendum on the constitutional amendments, who was a representative for the Islah party at the centre ”H” Constituency 116. Asked him about the sad events he and residents of the area have experienced, he said the crisis began when head of the committee at this centre had refused to adopt the report of counting votes of the boxes at his centre despite approval by other members of the committee. The reason, he said, was that first he was member of the GPC and also because he is the nephew of the GPC candidate whom the party was insisting on his winning in this centre even though the Islah nominee has gained the majority of votes. He insisted on obtaining approval of Ibb governor or the leadership of his party. Insistence by head of the committee on rejecting the result continued for three days, a matter causing a state of anger and waiting by all other political trends, including the Islah people who were sure that the Supreme Committee of Elections was not neutral because it has not taken quick measures to resolve the problem despite of intensive contacts made by many party sides and mediators with the supreme committee. Another problem happened at this centre when head of the supervising committee has closed the ballot boxes and prevented voting even before the end of the time fixed for closing them. Another misconduct at the centre was when the deputy governor stormed the centre accompanied with his bodyguards and thus delayed voting for a period of time. The man continued his account on the events at his centre by saying that three days later all the parties have agreed to move the boxes to headquarters of the original committee, which was not far from the centre since the results were known and signed by all participant parties except chairman of the center’s committee. What aggravated the situation was that the reports were in possession of the head of the committee who refused to distribute them among the concerned parties so that to solve the problem. What also had surprised all was the coming of the deputy commander of Yerim military camp to the centre accompanied by military men and large convoy claiming that he was assigned by higher officials to solve the problem and transfer the boxes to the original committee. To the surprise of all the convoy changed its course towards Yerim camp which is about 18 kms away from the committee’s place. He added that such irresponsible and illegal behavior created a state of confusion and anger among the Islah supporters, some of whom had followed the military convoy and fired at the trucks tires and that had widened engagement between the convoy and the citizens supporting the Islah in the Wadi area. Nonetheless the convoy continued its course towards the military camp before the boxes were taken to Ibb governorate.
On Feb. 25 we contacted the supervising committee in Ibb governorate demanding to offer a solution acceptable by all the parties and to direct the head of the center’s committee to give copies of the vote-counting reports to participants, the head of the supervising committee refused the request saying he was waiting directives from the governor. The a military campaign had arrived to the area and immediately started randomly opening fire using their heavy and medium weapons at the market place and the villages around the area. They have also staged an arrest campaign that included merchants and the people who were shopping then. And that had created a state of panic among children and women there. In response to that and in self-defense some armed people retaliated and engagement with the army units continued for more than three hours and things developed further when military reinforcements, including some Republican Guard were sent to the area supported with tanks, 32mm guns, 75mm guns and more than 30 military trucks carrying soldiers, taking combat position against all the villages of Kuhlan and Wadi Khaban area. Leadership of Islah party had given its orders not return fire and to self-restraint, prohibiting the killing of soldiers so that not to make the situation worse and to spare the life of innocent children and women and elderly people. The man has remarked that it was a savage military attack unprecedented even during the war of the seventies in the middle areas. The villages that came under bombing were mainly Thial-A’dl, Qara’d, Bait al-Khawlani, Bait Abu Asser, Ameeqa, Bait al-Harbiand Al-Siba’ie situated behind the mountain near the said villages. The bombing also included houses of some Islah leaders and those of some Islah candidates. Bombardment could not reach the Islah party leadership at Sabbar village because of being beyond the range of the artillery.
Another citizen we have interviews said the GPC party had tried by all its means to tempt the area’s people by offering some projects and transferring of water pipes and electricity posts to the area ahead of the voting date and also by using threats to those who would not obey them such as reducing officials salaries or kicking them out of their jobs. But despite that they could not influence them particularly that the area, especially Sabbar village is in full support of Islah party and where the Islamic front has grown. It is also the village of Sheikh Abdulrahman aL-Immad, the great Islamic leader. The area as a whole is a place for the Islamic Call and closed for the Islah. They argue that the projects offered by the government are part of their duties and must be provided to all areas of the republic. He said the ruling party and the governor had tried with various methods to impose their control over the constituency 116 grouping about 7 thousand votes, trying to create a democracy ruled with tanks and intimidation and destruction of defenseless villages, the result of which had been 6 people killed, seven wounded and 35 citizens arrested.
A person from Sabbar village added that security forces had used illegal and immoral methods by arresting the citizens.
A fourth person we had interviewed said the military campaign against the area of Kuhlan was prepared beforehand by the leadership of the ruling party after they had lost all their bettings and temptations to influence the citizens and after they had exhausted all their ways of intimidation and threats in addition to the illegal ways used before the date of elections. But, he says, the results came to be disappointing for them and that is why they intended to subjugate the area by killing and destruction and terrorism and by using the army that is supposed to protect the homeland.
Another citizen said army unjustifiable attacks with various weapons was just because the voting centre belonged to the Islah party. An evidence on the ruling party’s suppression is that the GPC groups tour the villages of the area following the military attack telling women and elderly people that the party would pursue their men from the Islah to arrest and punish. The deputy governor of Ibb had also said that they had disciplined the Socialists in the area and kicked them off for good and now it was the turn of the Islah and its supporters, the citizen added.
He said I think this is the strategic goal of the ruling party, to humiliate the Islah party. Giving an example of some army men practices he said a tank was targeted towards the Islah party emblem and fired at it just to terrorize the shepherds there and caused the killing of a number of cattle. Army 23mm guns had also fired towards a group of children in Thi Ya’il village, killing one child and wounding another two. Two men had offered to turn over their weapons to the military but they purposefully killed them just because of their having long beards. Some people had offered to give witness on the incident before court. The two men who were killed were Abdulrahman Qassem, 52, and Abdulillah Ali al-Aqra’ 27.
The citizen concluded by saying that a woman whose son had been arrested by the army said if partisanship and democracy come to us by the way of killing people or via the force of tanks and guns, we don’t want them.
A child Ali Ahmed Yahya al-Bahsh, 11 years old, relative of Amran Saleh who was killed by an army man said ” We do not want elections as long as be accompanied with tanks to kill the innocent, we curse those mounting tanks that shell us.”
Another citizen who was taken by great anger said we have refused partisanship the first day we have heard of it and imposed on us by the president. The president should take a decision abolishing partisanship as long as he would resort to the tank to settle differences with his foes. Let he people live in peace and security instead of the brother is killing his brother and relative. We are a peaceful people and like to live in peace. We have not forced the president to bring ballot boxes and hold elections under claim of democracy. We are looking for our living whereas others are looking for sowing sedition in the area. He added ” We are not in Israel, we are not Jews or Christians or Magians in a tyrannical country to be treated with this severity. We are Yemeni Moslem people who have supported and believed voluntarily in the message of the prophet. I cannot in future take part in any elections since they kill the children as they have done in my village.”
In conclusion all do query about the future of democracy in Yemen as long as resorting to tanks and guns is the basic characteristic of local councils elections.