“Thinking they are above the law has made certain people despise policemen.” [Archives:1998/40/Interview]

October 5 1998

Brigadier Mansour Al-Shamiry is General Director of Public Relations at the Interior Ministry. Graduating from Police College in 1977, Al-Shamiry, 43, later received a university degree and did higher studies in criminal law.
His association with the media goes back to 1983 when he presented a TV program on police activities in serving the community. He also worked as an editor and later chief editor of Al-Hurras (sentinels) newspaper. Al-Shamiry also teaches human rights at the Police College, Police Institute, and other academic establishments where police officers are trained.
Mohammed Bin Sallam of Yemen Times talked to Brig. Al-Shamiry about various issues concerning police-community relations and crime prevention. He filed the following interview. Excerpts:
Q: First of all, could you tell us about the role of PR Department at the Interior Ministry?
A: The Public Relations Department at the Ministry of the Interior is a relatively new section, established immediately after unification. However, this department has not yet assumed its full role. It is growing slowly but steadily.
In view of the increasing press freedom, the PR Department is necessary to strike a balance with partisan and independent media. It is the mouthpiece of the police force, which is sometimes attacked by opposition newspapers as a representative of the ruling authority. So the police and security apparatus have to have a media organ to be able to reply to allegations made by the independent and partisan press. It tries to present the policeman as a friend of the people, who is always willing to extend a helping hand.
Activities of the police PR Department do not stop at that. It also identifies all shortcomings in the service and attempts to recommend possible solutions.
Q: What means do you use to communication with the people?
A: We have a weekly public information TV program, which deals with various issues related to police services, crime prevention, drug abuse, etc. People have been quite responsive to issues covered by the program.
There is also a bi-weekly radio program broadcast by both the Sanaa and Aden radio stations, in addition to a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine. Official newspapers also publish crime stories, asking the public for information leading to the apprehension of perpetrators.
We are very concerned with how the general public views the police force. It is very important that a positive image is reflected both in reality and through the media.
Q: What future plans do you have to increase the media presence of the police force?
A: There are plans to establish a printing press especially for the Interior Ministry. We also plan to form a special TV production unit to produce public information programs.
Q: Through which channels do you get public opinion and response?
A: There are two major means of receiving feedback from the people. There are complaints or public opinion boxes positioned in specific places. Since there are no research facilities, we do not analyze the people’s responses as such, but try to get some indications of what people think about the police. These boxes are opened once a week, their content studied and recommendations are made to the ministry.
The second means of feedback is through the media. We scrutinize all the opinions and criticism directed at the police and security apparatus.
Q: How do you explain then the lack of direct communication between the independent and partisan media and the police force?
A: This is not quite accurate. When the need arises, we conduct press conferences in order to explain matters and exchange views and information with representatives of the media.
Unfortunately, some opposition publications always look for, and publish, the negative aspects of police work. They never bother with positive points. Neither do they bother to consult with us to get our view.
It is true that the police sometimes withholds information on some criminal cases. But this is usually important so as not to jeopardize the whole investigation or put people’s lives in danger. Also not wanting to jump to conclusions makes us careful about giving information to the press. Some media people construe this as a cover-up; thereby, creating mistrust among the general public.
Q: What types of crime are most common in Yemen? What types are on the rise? Why?
A: There is a marked rise in juvenile delinquency. This is most likely because of the current economic crisis, which made many parents unable to send their children to school. They are made to peddle simple goods in the streets of major towns and cities, or even beg for money. This has markedly raised the possibility of children becoming delinquents.
The economic downturn is also to blame for an increasing trend in domestic violence. Repugnant crimes which were absolutely unknown in our society have started to appear recently. Some young girls are forced into prostitution by their parents or brothers.
Also, pick-pocketing and confidence tricks, hitherto unknown in Yemen, have appeared. Such nauseating crimes are eating into the soul of Yemeni society.
Other crimes did exist in Yemen, but previously were not reported by the media. It was in the time before political pluralism and freedom of the press. So when such crimes started to be reported by the press, people thought they have increased within society. There is also a bettery system of documentation and statistical analyses of reported crimes at police stations around the country. So when put into actual figures, some crimes seem to be increasing. Also more people are now reporting crimes to the police, instead of just relying on tribal on community elders as used to be the case in the past.
Q: What efforts do you make to educate police and security personnel in order to help put an end to the human rights violations that take place in Yemen prisons and detention centers?
A: It cannot be denied that some violations do take place. So regular lectures and seminars are held to educate police and security personnel on how to deal with suspects, accused and imprisoned people. This is in addition to having human rights taught as a subject in police colleges and institutes around the country. We also send our people to most human rights seminars and conferences, whether held in Yemen or abroad.
Policemen do an essential social function. Some people see themsleves as above the law. So when a traffic policeman stops a car to check something, some drivers see that as restrictive to their personal freedom. Personal freedom is certainly not absolute. This is the principle in all democratic countries, your liberty ends where the other’s starts. Thinking that they can do as they please and be above the law have made certain people despise policemen, considering everything they do as a violation of their human rights.
Policemen act within the law, by which all citizens must abide. Anyone breaking the law must expect his or her freedom to be restricted. According to the law, a policeman can stop, search, arrest, and detain people for the good of society – provided it is done within legal constraints.
Q: How do you see the human rights situation in Yemen?
A: There are still some shortcomings experienced in this respect. This is true in almost all Third World countries due to political, economic and social circumstances. When there is a fault somewhere, there is bound to be some loss of rights.
A country where half the people are illiterate is a backward country where there is no full understanding of what human rights are all about. Crimes perpetrated by some people against others are violations of the victims’ human rights. When a policeman is not giving his full rights, he is bound to sometimes neglect his duty.
So to improve the human rights situation in any country, the cultural and economic questions have to be tackled first. This certainly cannot be done overnight.
Q: Some detainees in Yemeni prisons are still being shackled with steel chains and cuffs around their ankles. Will this practice ever stop?
A: Chaining prisoners is against Yemeni law. Such practice is the legacy of pre-revolution era. Such violations must be brought to public attention so that the practice can be stopped.
A policeman can only handcuff an arrested person to prevent him escaping. But when serving a prisons sentence, shackles are absolutely out of the question.
Q: How can the negative image of the policeman in society be changed?
A: First and foremost, people will have to be made fully aware that a policeman does a very important public service. The societal aspect of a policeman’s work has to be highlighted and consolidated.