Three hours in juveniles prison [Archives:2007/1088/Reportage]

September 24 2007

Amel Al-Ariqi
[email protected]

Most of the detainees in the juveniles section at the central prison deserve to be out, said official in the central prison in Sana'a. “Some 90 per cent of the people in this section should be released because they were victims in some way. They were victims of being in wrong place or wrong time,” said Nashwan Ali an official in this section. “Many of them are here because of delay in the judiciary measures”, he added.

The most common accusations against these detainees, aged between 15-19 years old, are murder, robbery, and sexual crimes. Many of these prisoners claim that they have already completed their terms but they still in prison. Others insist that they are innocent and they have been waiting for long time in the custody as their cases haven't been submitted to the court yet.

These statements came during a three hours visit carried out by four female lawyers, who represented the defence committee of the Democratic School, which is a non governmental organization established in 2002 to promote democratic awareness among children.

The lawyers were recently allowed by the interior minister to visit the central prisons across Yemen. The lawyers started their mission in Sana'a central prison which contains 3000 prisoners.

On the way to the prison

As the lawyers showed the interior minister's permission to visit the juveniles section in the central prison, they were shocked to hear an official telling them: “There are no juveniles or children here”. To prove the point the lawyers insisted on being shown around the prison. The official agreed to direct them to the department where they keep the “youngest prisoners.”

they walked a wide yard, then through four gates, to arrive in a dark hall where there was no light except the daylight which enters through the open door. The official ordered the detention guard to open the iron gate of the room. The guard opened the door, wondering why the female lawyers were visiting the male section of the prison. “These ladies are going to ask you questions …answer them …tell them whatever you want,” said the official. He turned to the guard saying few words to explain the lawyers' mission and instructed him to cooperate. Then the officer left. But after few minutes other officers entered the room, watching and answering the lawyers' questions.

Some 38 pair of eyes cautiously looked at the lawyers. They seem unsure of what exactly they had to do. Standing in front of their beds, they said nothing, glancing at the security guards and waiting for orders. Silence reigned. These minutes allowed the lawyers' to check out the rectangular room, measuring 4m x 8m

There were 24 shelves on the wall. These shelves were the prisoners' beds where they can sleep and sit. The beds were packed with the prisoners blankets and belongings( if they had any). Their belongings were mostly clothes. The prisoners wear no uniform. Some were wearing clean thoup (long traditional dress) others were wearing clean trousers and t-shirt. The prisoners were standing on the bar flagstone floor, most were wearing slippers. A few were barefoot . At the corner of the prison there was a 14 inch screen TV, sitting on a small table. Beside the table was a big vessel containing cooked beans for the breakfast. Although there are small six ventilators, it was not enough and the air was full of moisture.

“Tell these ladies every thing, they are lawyers, they may help you” cried the guard in attempt to encourage the prisoners, who moved slowly and hesitantly toward the lawyers.

Contrary to the jail official statement, there were prisoners whose features indicted that they are fifteen years old or even younger.

As most of these inmates don't have birth certificates which means that no one can be certain how old they are, the medical examiner is the one who defines the age of the detainees during the investigation and the judiciary measures, said one of the prison officials, insisting that the prison management only applies the orders of the court. He did not want to comment on the existence of prisoners aged fifteen years old.

” I am fifteen years old. I did nothing. The only thing I did was a witness a murder. For some reasons the judge considered that I was involved in the crime. The judge Afrah Badouelan requested to put me in juveniles center three months ago . However, I'm still here in the central prison” said Saddam Ameen Qaied who pointed to the broken finger of his left hand saying that he was tortured by policemen during the investigation process.

Like Qaied, Fwaz Abdullah saleh, 16, was also accused of murdering someone when he was 14 years old ” I have a gun machine. Once I was playing with my gun and I fired to the air, after a while I heard that I killed an old man in my village. I confessed my crime but yet I've never attended any court. I have been in the prison since two years.” He added.

Torture in the prison

After half hour, the prisoners began to give more information about their conditions in the prison. Some confirmed that they were mistreated and tortured during the investigation process in the police . Two of them only claimed that they were beaten by the prison guards inside the central prison. “The guards can enter any time and beat us on certain parts in our bodies where they leave no marks. They beat us if we raise our voice or create any noise” said S.A talking in low voice in order not be heard by the guards.

However Akrm, 17, contradicted what S.A had said, insisting “they don't beat us, but they punish us by more running exercises, preventing us from getting out the yard for playing, or more cleaning works inside the prison”

“They punish us only if they find us smoking or chewing Qat or creating noise” he added, confessing that he and some of the others smuggled in some cigarettes using money their relatives gave them.

The prisoner's official, Nashwan Ali, confirmed that the prison management doesn't accept sick or injured prisoners. He mentioned some cases where the accused arrived at the jail with serious injures due to the violent investigation methods used by the policemen to get information. The official said that the jail department refused to receive such cases because it could cause problems in the future.

Low hygiene condition

The residents were more open when they talked about the hygiene conditions inside the jail. They talked frankly in front the officers. “whatever we are suffering, the only medication available inside the prison is two kind of tablets: one is yellow and the other is red. I think they are pain-killers. 0nce I broke my leg and the doctor gave me four tablets, no more” said Abdullah 18 years old ” I'm suffering appendicitis and the only things that they give me is these medications”.

The residents confirmed that the prison doctors lacked medical instruments to test the prisoners. They used only stethoscope the medical tests are carried out only when the prisoner asked for them. Moreover there are only two doctors in the whole prison and t hey are available for a limited time. “In many cases we send the prisoners with serious conditions to the hospital” commented the official. “Some jailbirds pretended that they are sick to get out the jail to the hospital”. He later pointed out that the medical budget of the central prison, which contains 3000 prisoners, estimated to be 70000 YR.

“We are living in very poor condition. Insects and lice are everywhere. We keep on scratching. The soap they provide us in the prison is not good at all.” said Akram.

The room's capacity is twenty four, however, the jail contains 38. Some 14 residents are sleeping on the floor as there is no space for them. The jail provides them with a sponge mattress and blankets.

“we suffer a lot in winter as the prison becomes so cold and the prisoners suffer cold and coughs.” 18 years old Mohammed said. However, the guard said that the prison changes their covers each six months. The floor used to be covered with carpet . However it became dirty and full of insects, so the prison officers preferred to remove it.

The guard said that the juveniles lack breads. The prison management says each prisoner is given only four small loaves a day to be eaten with beans for breakfast and for lunch with rice and chicken. The meals are the same each day.

T.V in jail

Regardless the poor conditions , the prisoners do enjoy some rights. According to the prison officer all the juveniles are allowed to finish their education inside the prison class. He did not give more details of the education system inside the prison. However, the prisoners confirmed that the prison management provides them with the books and pens and they were attending classes inside the prison. “Our class start at 7:30 am and finish at 2pm” said one of the inmate.

They also can be in touch within the outside world by watching the T.V,which show 20 channels including news, sport, local , religious channels.

The official said that such channels, which are controlled by the prison guards, help to educate the prisoners, as well as entertain them. The TV shuts down at midnight. They are also received religious lecturers weekly.

The prisoners allowed to walk in the yard – for a hour a day, each afternoon. They also can exercise and play football.

At this point the guard asked the lawyers to stop their questions as it was time for AlDhaher prayer (midday pray); one of the prisoner becomes the muezzin (who calls for prayer). Slowly and peacefully, the young people moved to the small door inside the room. This door leads to the bathroom of the juveniles room. the lawyers feel that it is time to go. They left , giving promises to more than twenty young detainees that the “defence committee ” will follow up and adopt their cases in the future. They left shocked, awed and worried about those they left behind.


– The Yemeni government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. According to international standards, any child over age 18 suspected and accused of committing a crime and found to violate the law can be placed in a detention center. However, the age limit is lower in Yemen at 15. so age category that ranges from 16 to 18 is not included in the juvenile.

– An official study, conducted by the Ministry of Interior showed that 77 percent of the juveniles in the Yemeni detention without any charges, as they are detained by the prosecution and waiting for long term in the jail for their trail.

– There are only nine juvenile centers throughout Yemen, which contains twenty governorates

– A report , prepared by the Committee of Rights and Freedoms in the Shura Council, says that there are “500 children ” in prisons across the country.

– The same study revealed that the robbery crimes committed by those juveniles topped first with 29 percent. The sodomy crimes came in the second with 23 percent followed by crimes of drinking wines with 14 percent.