Yemenis concerned over land appropriation [Archives:2008/1212/Reportage]

December 1 2008

Saddam Al-Ashmori
For the Yemen Times

Illegal land appropriation has become a serious problem in Yemen. Vulnerable groups such as orphans or widows are the main victims of this unlawful practice by influential people, whether state officials or tribal leaders. Sometimes members of parliament are also involved in the appropriation.

“If your rival is the judge, to whom do you complain?” said Ahmed Al-Qaladhi whose two plots of land, located in the suburbs of Sana'a, were usurped unlawfully. “An influential man took my lands by force. He left some of his escorts in my lands and ordered them to protect it. He still intends to take over my third plot of land next to my house, which is the last one I possess.”

Al-Qaladhi's house was attacked by armed men who left bullet holes on the walls, before they dragged him out of the house in front of his family.

“I wouldn't be surprised if they seized my house too. The government has enabled such criminals to hold positions of influence and, consequently, extort property of people and the law is unable to take any procedures against them due to their influence,” he explained.

Taqeyyah Nasser, an 80 years old widow, said her land situated on Khamseen Street in Sana'a was subjected to attempts of illegal appropriation by influential individuals.

“When the government built Khamseen Street, I was surprised to see military vehicles and soldiers occupy my land based on orders from higher up,” she recalls, “They brought in a contractor who decided where to build villas and build fences in the land that I inherited from my late husband. I stood still and could not do anything.”

Distraught at having her land stolen, Nasser headed to the street with little hope that someone may help her retrieve what was rightfully hers.

“I sat near the fence of the land until the procession of President Ali Abdullah Saleh passed from the street. I threw myself onto the road to block his procession and, when he stopped, I complained to him about those who had seized my land. He ordered the soldiers to leave the land and gave it back to me.”

“God bestowed His care on me as the president passed by my land and returned it to me, but I am still worried about it. Other influential people may come again to seize it,” she pointed out.

Nasser was lucky, but hundreds of others whose lands have been illegally seized were not.

Aden city was the first place in which citizens took to the streets to protest against such unlawful behavior by powerful men. As the protests escalated, President Saleh gave his orders two months ago to reconsider the situation and replace some of the leaders involved.

Arwa Al-Hamadani, a Yemeni now living in Britain, said that, when she came back from Britain to establish an investment project on her land in Aden, she discovered that the land had been seized by someone supported by an official in the government.

“I showed all the property documents to prove that the land was mine but my efforts were in vain,” said Al-Hamadani. “After a long struggle in court and through mediations, I reclaimed only half of it. The rest was later built on by the man who had illegally appropriated it, despite him not having a single shred of evidence to prove his possession.”

The inhabitants of Hodeidah city have shared the same fate and complain of illegal appropriation of their properties in front of the government's eyes. The sons of Hussein Ghalib Al-Hutami maintain that their father died of grief after having spent too long demanding justice after his land was seized by influential officials.

In a letter of appeal sent to the president and circulated by local media outlets, Al-Hutami's sons said that they had been searching for justice for 15 years in the court but to no avail. Even security forces had not dared to carry out court orders to evict those who seized their land. They maintained that the latter had stolen their land at gunpoint and explained that they had taken over the land because of its good position, large size and the high price of land in the area.

Many Yemenis have been victims of illegal land appropriation. While some have reached an impasse and were unable to reclaim their property, others are still struggling to regain their rights. Although they possess the documents to prove their possession of land, it is those with influence who are able to build on their land without permission or evidence of ownership.

These legal land owners continue their struggle to regain their lands, hoping that one day the judiciary will wake up and put an end to the farce that influential people practice against them. They maintain that those in power who violate the law are exploiting their positions in order to oppress them and confiscate their rights.