Women victimized by motorcycle thieves [Archives:2008/1150/Last Page]

April 28 2008

Hamed Thabet
Many Yemenis work as motorcycle drivers in order to earn a living; however, others use it to steal women's purses and harass female pedestrians on the street.

There are more than 10,000 motorcycles in Sana'a, nearly all of which have entered Yemen illegally from entry points such as Oman and Saudi Arabia. These motorcycles don't have any documentation or insurance and are unregistered, notes Yahya Shubail, former head of the Sana'a Traffic Department.

Many motorcyclists in Yemen consider it a job in order to make a living, says Yahya Al-Hadtha. “I tried to find a job for nearly a year, but with no success, so one day, I decided to buy and become a motorcycle driver in order to earn money. I don't have a number for my motorcycle and it's unregistered.”

The real problem in Yemen is that most of these motorcycles are unregistered and have entered the country illegally, so no one can go after these criminals and find them, Shubail notes.

This is why the Yemeni government must give some attention to this problem and come up with solutions. Besides Sana'a, Hodeidah governorate and the Tihama region also are experiencing an increased number of motorcycles.

Many motorcyclists use their vehicles to steal women's purses, for sexual harassment and to break the law by not heeding traffic signals, Shubail said.

While walking to her home in Al-Qaa'a area of Sana'a one afternoon last year, a motorcyclist came up to Abeer Mohammed and tried to steal her purse. “I fought with him while he was holding my purse. I beat him until we both fell down. Then some people saw us and came to help me and the driver drove away,” she recounted.

During the past three years from 2005 to 2007, the phenomenon of hooligan motorcyclists has increased. They steal women's purses while they're walking on the street, as well as sexually abuse women pedestrians, and then flee quickly, explains Ahmed Sa'ad, an official at Al-Saba'een area police station in Sana'a.

Following such incidents, Sa'ad noted, “We came up with a plan to stop and fight these motorcyclists. In the beginning, it was a very hard job because many of the cycles were unregistered. However, working hand in hand and with the help of security officials, it worked.”

After working hard to stop gangs and illegal motorcycles, police succeeded in 2007 in stopping and catching nearly all of the thieves. Approximately 40 to 50 motorcyclists have been caught and imprisoned. While most were organized gangs, some acted individually, Sa'ad added.

According to him, “We used to follow them by car and taxi, keeping our eye on them in order to learn more about them and we succeeded. We then sent them to criminal investigation, which transferred them to the attorney general's office.”

Despite such successful action, the phenomenon has begun to reappear in Sana'a and there must be solutions as soon as possible, Sa'ad urged.

However, not all motorcyclists are bad; in fact, most work hard to earn a respectable living. At the same time, many people – almost exclusively men – prefer getting around by motorcycle because it's faster than other vehicles.

“They're fast because no one can follow them because there aren't any numbers on our motorcycles,” adds Ali Mohammed, who has been a motorcycle driver for almost two years.

He explains, “Because I'm poor and couldn't find a job, I started working as a driver, taking people from place to place.” However, he admitted, “I know many drivers who use their motorcycles to steal from people on the street or to bother women and girls.”

Riham Ahmed, 19, was walking to her car with her friend from their friend's house. She recalled, “The neighborhood was dark. A motorcyclist came from behind and tried to take my purse, but I kept holding onto it so he couldn't take it. He failed and drove off.”

She continued, “I then got into my car and tried to go after him and find him, but without success. Since then, I've stopped going out at night alone and started carrying my purse on the side facing the sidewalk so that no one can do anything.”

Bushra Al-Liswas likewise had a bad experience seven years ago while walking on Iran Street in Hadda area. She said, “It was 8:30 p.m. and I was walking alone when a motorcyclist carrying another passenger with him came from behind and tried to take my purse by force and he did. I screamed, but when people came to help me, he'd already fled with my purse. I lost my mobile phone and some money.”

Eid season is a good time for thieves because everyone goes to the market to buy things. At that time, their purses and pockets are filled with money.

For example, during this past Eid Al-Fitr, while Mona was in the market buying some clothing, a motorcyclist came up, hit her hard on the back and seized all of her purchases.

Other motorcycle crimes

Some girls have encountered extremely dangerous situations involving motorcycle hooligans. One day during Ramadan, a group of girls was in the market when a group of four male motorcyclists suddenly drove past, threw acid on them and then fled. Some of the girls' clothing [that they were wearing] melted and two girls were injured because of it, Majeda recounted.

She continued, “We didn't report it to the police because we thought that even if we did, nothing would happen because there's no law to protect us, so we just decided to walk on and be careful.”

Besides using their motorcycles, thieves also use weapons. According to A.J., “Last year, I was walking to my friend's house at sunset to attend her wedding when three individuals came up on their motorcycles, threatened me with knives and demanded all of my gold. Having no other choice, I gave them everything.”

Shubail points out that there is a law pertaining to stopping smuggled motorcycles, but so far, it hasn't been implemented. He concluded, “I recommend creating stricter legislation in order to stop traffic congestion and confusion in order to benefit the public.”