Yemen Times reveals an incredibly inhuman torture story: “What in the world has gone  wrong with our country”? [Archives:1999/21/Reportage]

May 24 1999

I felt disgusted and sickened as I sat there listening to the grueling details. In the small courtroom in Al-Mahweet Primary Court, the 4th sitting took place on Thursday, May 20th. The case on trial is of first degree police brutality leading to murder. 
Mohammed Al-Kokabani, 19, had been arrested on charges of theft. Unfortunately for him, the interrogation took a violent twist. All kind of hellish torture was applied to extract a confession to a crime, it turns out, he never committed. 
 He was beat up ferociously with a cudgel, stripped almost naked and then repeatedly dipped in freezing water late at night, put in solitary confinement in a small, old and dirty room. He was kicked by heavy military boots and forced to suck his own blood. Following one of these late night brutal events, he was left alone to bleed to death. No single evidence was ever found against him. 
The above facts were the exact words of a principal witness, Aziz Al-Karn, the head of the Criminal Investigation Office in Al-Taweelah town. A report submitted by the forensic doctor to the Attorney General states that 146 wounds and other signs of torture were found on the murdered man’s body. 
The perpetrators of this repulsive crime are ironically the people who are supposed to protect and defend our lives. We have long been taught that police officers are the guardians of law, the servants of the public interest, and offer safe refuge to the oppressed. 
They are empowered by the country’s laws and constitution to serve society. What’s taking place today is just the opposite. There are too many cases of police and military people in Yemen today using the power of the law – and the arms they carry, to blackmail, intimidate, beat up and even kill civilians. The life, dignity and property of citizens are compromised at the hands of a bunch of monsters. 
A Common Practice: 
Sadly, the case of Mohammed Al-Kokabani is not the only one. Over the last few weeks alone, there are reports of half a dozen civilians murdered at the hands of the police. There is no concern nor accountability. 
The problem is growing, and public indignation is growing leading to possible violence, unless police brutality is checked. 
Police brutality over petty crimes is a relatively new phenomenon in Yemen’s social culture. A few years ago, such a crime would have provoked an uproar from many sectors in society, because our society enjoys a reasonable degree of ethical and religious values. This kind of police brutality is new to us. 
Recently, however, many cases of police brutality are being reported while many more go unreported. In fact, there is now fear that this phenomenon might have become an institutionalized practice. 
Police cops and investigation officers take it for granted that torturing suspects to force them confess crimes is okay. Ordinary people are also duped to agree that the police have to be tough to control crimes. That’s why there is a fear this phenomenon might have acquired an institutionalized recognition. 
To add insult to injury, many of the police and other armed groups in the military institution engage in all kinds of crimes. Part of the reason is that, except for certain “big boys” in the Security Apparatus, many police officers are miserably underpaid. To circumvent this problem, they are implicated in various crimes. Therefore, reported suspects of robbery are victims of torture inflicted on them by police cops and/or investigation officers to force them confess as to the whereabouts of the stolen goods. Once found, a considerable share of these valuables are looted by the cops themselves. 
What Happened? 
Major Ali Abdulkarim Shouaibi, Chief of At-Taweelah Security Department and two young soldiers acted under his command, arrested the young Kowkabani. 
On 13th of March, 1999, the officer and his men arrested the young Kokabani. for one week, they worked on him. 
On Saturday March 20th, he died while in detention. 
Major Shouaibi took the body to hospital claiming that the boy, who suffering from seizure, fell off and bumped his head against the floor and died. For a few days, the police department did not notify anybody of the death of the young man. 
It was first reported by Yemen Times following an appeal to the Human Rights Committee in the Consultative Council by the family of the victim. 
Inside the Court: 
Through 2 hours of grueling details, Major Ali Shouaibi shockingly exasperated the courtroom with his shameless contempt and indifference to the court proceedings. Though the eyes of the people were focused on him, he showed not even the slightest sign of remorse. It is as if he felt pretty sure that he would get away with the crime he had already confessed to. 
Mr. Mohammed Nagi Allaw and Mr. Muqbil Haiderah – both well-known lawyers involved in human rights – volunteered to fight for the victim. They led the effort to hold the officers accountable for the crime. 
Three newspapers were present – Yemen Times, Al-Thawri, and Al-Wahdawi. These newspapers, often in trouble with the authorities, now push the campaign to help the victims. 
Many so called religious scholars or clerics in the area remain tight-lipped on the issue. Partly, that is because the victim was not a member of any political party. Second, he does not hail from a strong tribe. And third, a lot of people may be afraid to get in trouble with the regime, in general, and the security, in particular. 
The court scene was quite tense. The next sitting is scheduled for Thursday, 27th May. 
A Problem of the System: 
The problem grows due to lack of proper technical training, as well as ethical professionalism. Many of the police and investigation departments are poorly equipped with no up to date investigating techniques. No standards are observed or relevant qualification and experience demanded when appointing police officers to head investigation or security departments. In Yemen, nepotism and favoritism are the principal factors. 
Thus, it is hard to come across clean and honest security or investigation officials. Good and clean cops are often marginalized. Corrupt or morally destitute cops are more visible. 
By: Mohammed Abbas, 
Yemen Times