Dozens of people, including prisoners of conscience, were arrested on political grounds. Many were detained for short periods without charge or trial, and then released. One prisoner of conscience under sentence of death was released. At least 33 political prisoners received unfair trials; four were sentenced to death. At least 13 political prisoners, most of them sentenced to death in previous years, remained in prison. There were continued allegations of torture. One person reportedly died in circumstances which suggested that torture was a contributory factor. Cruel judicial punishments, including flogging, continued to be imposed. The fate of hundreds of people who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. Two people were killed by government forces in circumstances which suggested that they were victims of excessive use of force. At least 17 people were executed; hundreds of others were believed to be under sentence of death. At least one person was forcibly returned to a country where he was at risk of torture and execution.

In August President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh issued a decree extending the scope of the death penalty to include kidnapping and looting public or private property.

In January the government established the National Supreme Committee for Human Rights, responsible for liaison with international human rights organizations and for monitoring the implementation of human rights treaties. The President also established the Human Rights, Liberties and Non-Governmental Organizations Committee, which, as part of the Consultative Council, advises the President.

Dozens of suspected opponents of the government, including prisoners of conscience, were detained during the year on political grounds. Among them was prisoner of conscience Dr al-Murtada bin Zayd al-Muhatwari, imam of the Badr mosque in Sana‘a, who was arrested in September by members of the political security and the Republican Guard, without a judicial warrant. He was held solely for his public criticism of the government and was released in November without charge.

Dozens of other people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were briefly detained in connection with demonstrations against cuts in food subsidies and against government plans to administratively divide the province of Hadramout. They were reportedly released without charge or trial.

Dozens of possible political prisoners were arrested during the year in connection with explosions in Lahj, Abyan and Aden. It was unclear at the end of the year whether they were still detained. In December a number of political prisoners, including four United Kingdom (UK) nationals and one man with dual Yemeni and UK nationality, were arrested in connection with possession of explosives and plans to carry out attacks.

Mansur Rajih, a prisoner of conscience, was released in February after more than 14 years under sentence of death (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998).

Four political prisoners were sentenced to death and at least 29 others received prison sentences of up to 12 years after trials which fell short of international standards for fair trial. Defendants were denied access to lawyers during the initial period of their detention and many were tortured in order to obtain confessions. In October, three men – Bajash ‘Ali Mohammad ‘Abid al-Aghbari, Sa‘eed Suleiman Sa‘ad bin Nilah and Mohammad Ahmed Saleh Haidara – were sentenced to death and nine others were sentenced to prison terms for involvement in an armed group in the governorate of al-Mahrah and having links with government opponents abroad. The group's access to legal assistance was reportedly severely restricted.

In two separate trials for bombings in Aden in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998), one man – Nabil Kanakli Kasaybati, a Spanish national of Syrian origin – was sentenced to death and at least 20 others were sentenced to prison terms of up to 12 years. A further four were sentenced in absentia. In both cases defendants alleged that they were held in incommunicado detention and tortured to force them to confess. Torture included beatings all over the body, falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet), suspension while tied up for prolonged periods of time, and electric shocks. In all three cases defence lawyers were expected to appeal against the sentences.

At least 13 political prisoners, suspected members of the former opposition organization al- Jabha al-Wataniya al-Dimuqratiya, National Democratic Front, in the former Yemen Arab Republic, remained in prison. Most of them had been sentenced to death in 1986 (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

There were further reports of torture and ill-treatment. Methods included beatings, prolonged suspension upside down, electric shocks and the prolonged use of shackles. At least one person reportedly died in circumstances which suggested that torture may have been a contrib-utory factor. Ahmed Qa'id ‘Abd Rabeh Muthanna, a teacher, was arrested by al- Najda (Rescue) police officers after a criminal complaint was lodged against him. According to official records he was taken to hospital in Dhamar by al-Najda officers on 22 March and died two days later. A medical report stated that injuries to his head and bleeding were major contributory factors in his death. The public prosecutor in Dhamar repeatedly ordered that the four men suspected of being responsible for his death be brought to him for questioning. However, there was no evidence of further investigation.

New information came to light concerning the death in custody in 1997 of Wadi‘ al-Sheibani, who had been arrested in connection with bombings in Aden (see above and Amnesty International Report 1998). According to an official medical report Wadi‘ al-Sheibani died from head injuries. The public prosecutor informed Wadi‘ al-Sheibani's family that he had committed suicide. However, the victim's family, who believed that he died as a result of torture, refused to collect Wadi‘ al-Sheibani's body until a thorough investigation into his death had been carried out and anyone responsible brought to justice. The government offered financial assistance to the family but stressed that this was not compensation. The govern-ment did not initiate an independent investigation.

The judicial punishment of flogging was widely imposed and often carried out immediately after sentencing. Defendants were denied a real opportunity to appeal as those who did so faced a lengthy period in prison while the appeal was pending. It was not clear whether any sentences of amputation were passed during the year, nor whether sentences passed in previous years were carried out (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

The fate and whereabouts of hundreds of people who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. Undertakings made by the government to investigate the cases of those who had "disappeared" since 1994 were apparently not implemented (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

At least two people were killed by government forces in circumstances which suggested excessive use of force. In April residents of the town of Al-Mukalla held a march to protest against government plans to administratively divide the province of Hadramout. Soldiers fired at protesters, who apparently presented no threat to their security. Ahmad ‘Omar Barjash and Faraj Murjan Ben Hammam were killed. Subsequently the parliamentary Committee for General Freedoms and Human Rights carried out an investigation which recommended that the local criminal investigation unit and the public prosecutor should seek to bring to justice those members of the security forces who fired guns during the protest. It was not clear at the end of the year whether the recommendations had been acted upon. Other clashes between government troops and demonstrators reportedly resulted in dozens of deaths. However, no details of the circumstances of these deaths were available by the end of the year.

At least 17 people were executed, often following trials which fell short of international norms for fair trial. Nasser Saleh Nasser Zuba‘a was executed in October – just two days after the murder of which he was convicted. The speed with which he was executed indicated that he was not given adequate opportunity to prepare a defence or appeal against the verdict or sentence.

Information came to light that Muhammad Hussein ‘Ali al-Zandani was executed at the end of 1997. He had been sentenced to death in 1995 for a murder reportedly committed when he was 16 years old (see Amnesty International Report 1998). He was reportedly executed without his family or lawyer having been informed. Jalal ‘Abdullah al-Rada‘i and ‘Abdullah ‘Ali Idris al-Rada‘i, sentenced to death and crucifixion in August 1997, were executed at the end of 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998). Their bodies were publicly displayed on crosses. Both men were reported to have been denied access to legal assistance during their trial. The death sentence for adultery imposed on Sabah al-Difani in 1995 was overturned. However, a sentence of 100 lashes was upheld and she was released after the flogging had been carried out (see Amnesty International Report 1997).

Hundreds of prisoners were believed to be under sentence of death at the end of the year, although the exact number was not known.

In August the government forcibly returned Fahd ‘Abdullah Jassim al-Malki to Qatar, where he was allegedly tortured and where he faced capital charges for alleged involvement in an attempted coup in 1996 (see Qatar entry).

Amnesty International called for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience and for prompt and fair trials for all political prisoners. The organization also called for an end to the arbitrary arrest and detention of political suspects and urged that all allegations of torture, deaths in custody, "disappearances" and use of excessive lethal force be investigated.

Amnesty International expressed concern at the widening of the scope of the death penalty and urged that all sentences of death, amputation and flogging be commuted.

In response to the kidnapping in December of 16 tourists and the subsequent killing of four of the tourists and, reportedly, three kidnappers, Amnesty International urged the government to carry out an impartial and independent investigation into all the killings. The organization called for the findings of such an investigation to be made public and for anyone found to be responsible for any of the killings to be brought to justice. Amnesty International called on the government to ensure that legal proceedings against those arrested in connection with the kidnapping met international standards for fair trial in capital cases. The organization also urged the government to exercise clemency and commute any death sentences passed.

In September an Amnesty International delegation met the Attorney General and the Chief Co-ordinator of the National Supreme Council for Human Rights. The delegates sought clarification from the Attorney General concerning, among other things, undertakings made by the government during Amnesty International's visit to Yemen in 1996 (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998), which included the establishment of a unit within the Attorney General's office to investigate allegations of torture. The Attorney General said that his office already had the power to undertake such investigations and that a specific unit was not necessary. The former attorney general had informed Amnesty International in 1997 that such a unit had been established (see Amnesty International Report 1998).

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