“Wolf, Wolf!” [Archives:1999/10/Viewpoint]

March 8 1999

Many pro-democracy Yemenis, who have previously suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the Yemeni security apparatus, are in a strange way delighted with the on-going court case of the Britons being tried for “terrorism” in Aden. They see the Britons as allies in the fight to reign-in the lawless and ruthless behavior of certain elements in the country’s security corps.
Specifically, the Yemenis see two silver (or rather golden) linings in this development.

First, there is a chance to make Yemen’s security apparatus start telling the truth. Self-righteous yet corrupt security officers tell lies and twist facts at will. They tell lies to the public, the international community, and even to the leadership of the country. If Yemen wants to make any progress in administrative accountability and in respect for human rights, this lie-telling practice has to stop.
Today, the experience with the Britons shows that not many people believe the word of the Yemeni security authorities, even if they were telling the truth. The problem is that they have been calling “Wolf, wolf!” for a long time.
In the past, they were able to get away with it because it was their word against those of victimized Yemenis. The world, headed by friends of the regime, gave the Yemeni officials the benefit of the doubt. They even looked the other way when the lies were not that plausible.
The first silver lining, therefore, is the pressure on the security apparatus to shape up and tell the truth. After all, they are today against a formidable foe that can mobilize world attention. Will the security stop crying “Wolf!”?

Second, the security forces, especially the political security office and the criminal investigation bureau regularly engage in torture. Now, they have done it to foreigners, who are demanding full accountability. Our rulers did not care enough when the torture victims were our own people. Now, they are forced to check this ugly practice, because those who have suffered are foreign.
To add insult to injury, after they engage in torture, these twisted officers intimidate judges, lawyers, attorneys, medical doctors, government officials and others to cover-up for them. They demand that these officials go along their lies, and even vouch for them.
With foreign pressure mounting, there is now a good chance to reign in the sick officers and make them pay for torturing people. On paper, Yemen does say and agree that torture is against our own laws, as well as contrary to many international conventions and agreements which Yemen has signed and ratified. Yet, officers and soldiers who regularly torture others are not held accountable.

The basic premise for Yemen’s joining the world community is that it agrees to live by world rules. These include more tolerance of differences of opinion, and acceptance that rivals can mobilize themselves and their supporters in a bid for a transfer of power in a peaceful and legal way. If the rulers block this possibility, which is a remote one in any case, then they are inviting violence.