Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2000 - Yemen

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2000 - Yemen , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Republic of Yemen

Head of state: `Ali `Abdullah Saleh
Head of government: `Abd al-Karim `Ali al-Iryani
Capital: Sanaa
Population: 16.5 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist

A number of prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience, mainly journalists, were arrested and detained for short periods during 1999. Detainees suspected of politically motivated acts of violence were held in incommunicado detention, denied access to lawyers, and were often not informed of the reason for their arrest. Torture continued to be reported. In one case of death in circumstances suggesting torture was the main or a contributory factor, three security officials were tried and sentenced to prison terms. The death penalty continued to be imposed and the cruel judicial punishment of flogging was a regular occurrence.


President 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh was re-elected in Yemen's first presidential election in September, winning 96.3 per cent of the vote, according to official sources, based on universal suffrage. Najib Qahtan al-Sha'bi, a member of the President's General People's Congress party, who stood as an independent, was the only other candidate. Candidates required 10 per cent of parliamentary deputies to endorse their candidacy and no candidates from opposition parties were endorsed, partly because of their low level of representation in parliament, following their boycott of the 1997 parliamentary elections.

Explosions continued to occur throughout the country. Some were reported to be politically motivated. Approximately 22 people were killed and 60 injured. The Aden-Abyan Islamic Army claimed responsibility for some bombings. This group had claimed responsibility for the December 1998 abduction of 16 tourists, four of whom were later killed in shooting between the abductors and security forces. The group made several threats throughout 1999 to carry out further campaigns of violence, including threats of retaliation in response to the execution of its leader.

Approximately 30 people were reportedly killed in security incidents including armed skirmishes between heavily armed tribes, and clashes between tribes and security forces.

A total of 30 people were reported to have been abducted in nine incidents. In most cases the abductors' demands were for improvement of local services and amenities. None of the reported abductions in 1999 resulted in injuries or fatalities.

In October the government announced the establishment of special courts to hear cases involving abductions of foreigners, explosions targeted at oil pipelines, car theft and acts of sabotage. The government also announced the establishment of a prosecution service to focus specifically on such cases. The move followed the 1998 introduction of the death penalty for abduction. Just days after announcing the new courts, the Interior Minister announced that 46 people accused of such crimes would be immediately referred to the new courts.

Harassment of journalists

Several leading journalists and newspaper editors were arrested and detained for short periods of time, during which they were prisoners of conscience. Most were detained and questioned in association with particular articles they had written or published. During 1999 a number of newspapers, including al-Haq and al-Shura, were suspended.

  • 'Ali Haitham al-Gharib, lawyer and writer with both al-Ayyam and al-Tariq newspapers, was arrested in early March after publishing articles reportedly deemed a threat to national security. He was released after five days. Also in March Hisham Basharahil, publisher and editor-in-chief of al-Ayyam was detained for questioning for two hours then released. After several court hearings the two men were found guilty of charges which included "harming national unity". They were both sentenced to suspended sentences and Hisham Basharahil was ordered to pay a fine.

Irregularities in arrest and detention procedures

The bombings and explosions were sometimes followed by arrests and detentions which breached Yemen's own laws or international standards by which Yemen is bound, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Detainees were held in incommunicado detention and denied access to family and to lawyers.

  • Omar Ibrahim Dagah, for example, was arrested in August in association with an explosion in the Tuwahi area of Aden. He was held in incommunicado detention, and denied access to his family and to a lawyer. On one occasion, several days after his arrest, security officials brought him to his house in order to carry out a search. His family said that Omar Ibrahim Dagah appeared weak and exhausted and was wearing shackles. He was still in incommunicado detention at the end of 1999.

Political trials

Several individuals were tried, in front of ordinary courts, in association with alleged "terrorist" activities, including bombings and abductions. Trials sometimes failed to meet international standards of fairness: some failed to investigate allegations of torture; statements were issued to the press which prejudiced the defendant's right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty; there were irregularities in arrest and detention procedures, such as the use of incommunicado detention; and the defence faced obstacles such as denial of the right of lawyers to have private consultations with their clients or access to relevant documentation.

  • Zein al-'Abideen al-Mehdar, also known as Abu al-Hassan, leader of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, was executed in October for his role in the December 1998 abduction of a group of tourists and the subsequent killing of four of them. AI did not have precise details of court proceedings but expressed concern to the government that after his arrest in December 1998 Zein al-'Abideen al-Mehdar was ill-treated, was held in incommunicado detention and was denied access to lawyers. Statements made to the press by security officials about the case may have also been prejudicial to his right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty. AI called on the government to ensure that Zein al-'Abideen al-Mehdar was afforded all guarantees for a fair trial but did not receive a response.
  • A group of 10 individuals, including Algerian and UK nationals, charged with forming an armed gang and possession of weapons, was sentenced in August to prison terms which ranged from seven months to seven years. Several of the defendants were arrested in late December 1998. They were held in incommunicado detention for two weeks, during which time they were allegedly tortured and ill-treated in order to force them to confess. They were not informed of any charges against them and were denied access to lawyers for approximately three weeks. During the trial proceedings, their access to lawyers was restricted and the right to private consultations at times denied. Although at least some of the defendants were examined by doctors, there was no independent, impartial investigation into the allegations of torture. The prosecution lodged an appeal calling for harsher sentences while the defence appealed against the verdict. In September both appeals were disallowed on the grounds that they had been submitted too late. After the appeals were rejected, three prisoners who had already completed their sentences were released. At the end of 1999 the case was before the Supreme Court.


Torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment continued to be reported. Methods reported during 1999 included beatings while tied up, beatings on the soles of the feet, sleep deprivation, denial of food, threats of torture and the use of shackles. Torture appeared to take place mostly in incommunicado detention. Most incidents of torture remained uninvestigated.

  • Mohammed al-Kowkabani was arrested in March on suspicion of theft and died a week later in custody in circumstances suggesting torture was the main or a contributory factor. In July, one police officer and two soldiers were sentenced to prison terms for their part in the torture.
  • Wadi' al-Sheibani died in the custody of the political security police in 1997. Despite repeated calls for a thorough investigation into the cause of his death from his family and local and international non-governmental organizations, including AI, to AIknowledge his death remained uninvestigated throughout 1999.

Death penalty

The death penalty continued to be imposed, sometimes after trials which failed to meet international standards for fair trial. AI recorded 35 executions during 1999, including that of Zein al-'Abideen al-Mehdar. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of people were believed to have been under sentence of death or facing trial for capital offences.

Other concerns


Local lawyers and journalists reported that flogging was imposed as a judicial punishment on a regular basis, and in some areas was a weekly occurrence. Flogging is prescribed for certain offences of a sexual nature, for the consumption of alcohol and for slander.


There were no new reported cases of "disappearance". However, AI continued to seek clarification of the cases of hundreds of people who "disappeared" in Yemen from the late 1960s onwards. In 1996 the government undertook to investigate "disappearances" which had occurred since 1994. AI repeatedly sought information from the government on 27 such cases, but none was received. In 1998 the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) visited Yemen and issued a report which recommended that the government "recognises and regrets the events which led to the disappearances and death of hundreds of human beings" and that the government should establish a task force "for the purpose of settling the remaining legal issues in connection with the 1986 disappearances". The government was due to submit a final report on steps taken to WGEID by 31 October 1999.

Intergovernmental mechanisms

In January the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considered Yemen's second periodic report. The Committee expressed concern at the use of physical punishment, including flogging, and torture in detention centres.

AI's memorandum to the government

In April AI submitted a substantial memorandum to the government detailing many of its concerns. It included an appendix containing five cases of people executed after unfair trials; nine cases of people sentenced to death; 11 examples of people alleged to have been tortured; eight examples of women or children reportedly detained beyond expiry of sentence; and two possible extrajudicial executions. The memorandum asked for clarification of the cases and information as to steps the government had taken to implement commitments made to AI in 1996. It informed the government of AI's plans to publish its concerns in a report, and stated that AI was prepared to reflect the government's response concerning the issues raised. However, none was forthcoming.

AI country report

  • Yemen: Empty promises – Government commitments and the state of human rights in Yemen (AI Index: MDE 31/004/99)
Copyright notice: © Copyright Amnesty International

Search Refworld