Views on the Private Sheikhs Jails [Archives:1999/44/Reportage]

November 1 1999

The government led a campaign against the prisons controlled by the sheikhs of Al-Odein in Ibb on Oct. 22nd. These prisons were out of government control and were under the control of the sheiks who proclaim to have the ulitmate control over the villagers in their areas. They think that they can imprison or even kill the innocent people who try to resist them. Such behavior violates all norms of humanity. The government took the initiative to immunize the country of such scandals but, unfortunately, all its attempts were nipped in the bud. The ringleaders or the sheikhs of Al-Odein arrested in the campaign were soon released by orders of high ranking officials.
How have the Yemeni people reacted to this event? What is the real objective and meaning of this campaign? Why were those responsible for such prisons released so quickly? Let’s see what some of the Yemeni prominent figures say about this matter:
Fadl Ali Abdullah
Secretary-general of the Yemeni Committee for Defending Human Rights
It is undeniable fact that private jails have no real existence anywhere all over the world except in our country. The government is always preaching democracy and human rights, though these personal private jails are still haunting the Yemenis. They remind us of the medieval ages in Europe at a time we are at the threshold of the 3rd millennium. It seems that the idea of sheikhs’ abandoning their jails is a far-fetched hope that will never be implemented unless a decisive political will was exists and is strongly implemented.
What these sheikhs have been doing in terms of imprisoning, torturing, suppressing, enslaving their victims is an outrageous violation of all constitutional norms and human values. The Yemeni constitution provides for lots of articles that clearly envisage that all human rights are sustained and asserted in the Republic. The government has also signed all the international treaties pertaining to political, civic, economic, social, as well as cultural rights that assure a dignified life for all Yemenis. These rights do also give them the right to fearlessly express their opinions and to have personal freedom and security.
However, the fact remains that the continuance of these personal jails distorts the image of Yemen in the outside world. Although, the government has denied the existence – of these jails in Yemen on many occasions, cases of violations and reports of suppression continue to occur. These jails have their adverse effect on the personal liberty of the individual who ought to have absolute independence in his private life. He has also freedom of expression. He has the right to freely complain about all that difficulties and problems he faces in life. Suppression makes the productive, ambitious and virtuous individual an oppressed and a disabled person. Therefore, this is a crime against the humanity which should not be tolerated and must be uprooted at all costs.
The government bears the onus of destroying these jails that are undeniably the legacy of the infamous past epochs. We urge upon the President Saleh to take a decisive action regarding these jails and to breaking them irrevocably, especially after he won the elections again.
Using such hard-fought gains as a propaganda to beautify the democratic decoration will very much impinge on the credibility of the regime in Yemen before the outside world. However, Yemenis have become considerably disillusioned that the objectives of the revolution have been perverted and exploited. As Francis Fanoon said “Revolution is planned out by the shrewd, carried out by the brave, stolen by the thief, and none squanders it but the lily-liveried.”

Therefore, all the Yemenis should be very keen to cling fast to the democratic principles that they have chosen no matter what obstacles they face, especially during the current time when the world has become a “global village” and where information is transmitted from one country to another within the twinkling of an eye. What should actually have happened is that this revolution should have affected the mentality of these sheikhs and the influential people in our country. It should have altered their policies and opened their eyes to the new order that all are struggling for. How much we wished that such sublime objectives would have a positive impact on them!
In my view, the action pursued against these sheikhs is a test to know the reaction of the tribal institution whether there is a strong reaction, in which case these actions will come to a halt.
Dr. Yasseen Abdul Aleem Al-Qubati
The new changes that have been witnessed after the presidential election such as fighting Qat, carrying arms in the major cities, etc. are really auspicious. All of these are signs indicating the government’s determination to proceed in the right path to save the society from the dangers blocking its progress and development. The main job of the government is consolidating the principles and values of justice and security and equitably distributing the country’s wealth among its citizens.
The weakness of the judicial system and the security system which carry out the judicial decisions has led to the appearance of a group of people known for their violence and their disrespect for law and ethics. This group of people spoil the image of their leaders who overlook what it does. They reach high positions through unfair means. Sometimes they call themselves sheikhs, society leaders, military leaders, or religious men. Such people are king makers who have their own rulers and judges having the right to construct prisons and put other people behind bars. This brutal behavior has been rightly characterized as symptomatic of middle ages. This, obviusly, striles on the roots of the central power of the government and shows the government’s failure to maitain peace and stability in the society.
What the local government of the Ibb governorate has done when it set free all the prisoners who were imprisoned for a long time for their opposition to injustice and inhuman behavior practiced by the sheikhs is the best example of what the strong government should be like. The government should depend on strong and honest people and not flatterers or hypocrites. I am sure that the president, who has already proved himself, will also prove that he no longer needs such people and will support the actions of the governor of the Ibb governorate who took the initiative to improve the situation in his governorate.
The prisons under the control of the tyrants in Taiz, Sanaa, Al-Hodaidah and the other governorates must be recovered to make the people feel they are protected by a strong central government.
Lotfi Al-Noman, Writer
These private jails constitute a flagrant violation of human rights, the constitution and the laws. This is actually a clear sign of the absence of the veneration of the government authority. The government has to do its best to restore its prestige and dignity.
What I believe is that the government’s action to destroy some of these jails recently is not a propaganda campaign. On the contrary, it seems to me that this was a declaration of its resentment over all the violations that took place. If the government do not continue its efforts to obliterate these jails, it will inevitably fall through. Many suspect that this action may include other sheikhs. Hence, the government should better start dealing with its tyrannical people in Sana’a. To conclude, I feel more optimistic to see the fruits of this campaign.
Dr. Abubaker Al-Saqqaf
The last part of the question contains a large chunk of the answer. Obviously, the military campaigns against common people are always fierce and violent. But sheikhs are part of the ruling party. Therefore, any military campaigns against them is bound to be temporary.
This question implies that in the present newly established order, the issue of private prisons has been controversial since the abolition of the Imam’s regime. The existence of these prisons shows that there is another power block other than the government that has the locus of control. Moreover, it is a sign of lack of equality of citizenship rights.
I don’t think that the campaign will go on. The tribal ‘institution’ would be forced to allay the dangerous consequences of the manouvre.
It is virtually imposible for the military campaigns to reach all the sheikhs and tribe leaders or the private prisons in the capital city. So, the reign of terror unleashed by the sheikhs continues unabated. The other day, the opposition papers mentioned the news of imprisonment of the well-known businessman, Al-Ghannami in a palace in Al-Hasabah street. He was released only after he paid a large amount of money. A year ago, al-Thawri newspaper mentioned about the death of Sheikh Nassir in the prison of Sheikh Abdulla Ben Hussain Al-Ahmar. People also talk about separate cells in the Central Prison used by the son of Abdulla Ben Hussain Al-Ahmar to imprison his opponents. They also talked about a similar prison used by Sheikh Al-Shaif. These prisons are similar to Al-Habs Al-Shareef( the Honest Prison) owned by the ‘Imam’ before the revolution of the 26th of September.
After the civil war, a huge amount of money and weapons came to the possession of the sheikhs and tribal leaders . This helped them restore the “Akiaal’s government” which was abolished by the collapse of the ‘Himiar’ reign and the spread of Islam. This ‘Himiarian’ system was a natural concequence of the fragile central government. The same history is repeating itself nowadays in the form of sheikhs and tribe leaders who cling to their respective places, enjoying uninterrupted autonomy, negating the concept of a centralized power. During the reign of the Imam, the sheikhs and tribe leaders of the northern governorates were part of the state, while the those from the southern governorates were merely ordinary citizens.
The same situation has not changed even after the revolution. One of the main reasons that led to the collapse of the government of late president Ibrahim Al-Hamdi was that it posed a challenge to sheikhs and tribe leaders. On the contrary, the present government from the very beginning of its formation has taken into consideration rehabilitation of sheikhs and tribe leaders. In fact, the event of Al-Odain proves that the equal citizenship is not available even to the Sheikhs from the southern governorates. It seems that the modern state is still a distant prospect.