Covering events from January - December 2003

Up to 200 people arrested in the months following September 2001 continued to be detained without charge or trial outside any judicial process. They were denied access to lawyers. Foreign nationals continued to be deported for "security reasons" to countries where they were at risk of human rights violations. Four people were reportedly killed in demonstration against the war on Iraq. There were reports of torture, which appeared not to have been independently investigated. At least 30 people were executed and scores, possibly hundreds, were under sentence of death at the end of the year, including a woman who faced death by stoning.


The General People's Congress retained its position as Yemen's ruling party after elections that began on 27 April. The elections were marred by violence, during which five people were killed, and reported electoral irregularities. Women remained under-represented; only 13 stood for election and none was elected.

The Office of the State Ministry for Human Rights was upgraded into a full Ministry of Human Rights.

On 22 May the President declared an amnesty for 16 exiled political leaders who had fled Yemen in 1994 after the north-south civil war. Some of the 16 had been sentenced to death in absentia. Many of the 16 had reportedly returned to Yemen by the end of 2003.

Scores of people were reportedly killed in clashes between tribes, and between government forces and tribal groups, in different parts of Yemen.

Indefinite detention without charge or trial

Up to 200 people continued to be detained without charge or trial outside any judicial process since their arrest in the wake of the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001. There appeared to be no plans to bring them to trial. The government said they were being detained because they held "extremist" religious views and would only be released if they changed their views.

At the end of the year, more than a dozen of those arrested in connection with the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole had been detained for more than three years without being formally charged and without access to a lawyer.

Political arrests

Hundreds of political arrests were reported during the year. Most of those arrested were held for several months without charge or trial, and without access to lawyers. Arrests were carried out without the judicial supervision required by law. Those targeted included people believed to be members of Islamist organizations or suspected of involvement in "terrorism".

  • Several suspected members of al-Qa'ida were reportedly arrested in March. Among them were Kamal Saleh Ba Jabia, Sheikh Salah Salem al-Shibani and Sheikh Ammar bin Nasher, all Yemeni nationals, who were suspected of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. They were believed to be still held at the end of the year.
  • In April, following the escape of 10 Yemenis held in connection with the attack on the USS Cole, dozens of people were reportedly arrested, including relatives and friends of the escapees. It was not known whether they were still held at the end of the year.
  • In October, several alleged members of al-Qa'ida were reportedly arrested in Sana'a; those arrested were said to include foreign nationals. They were believed to be still held at the end of the year.
  • Ghanim al-Malaki, a Saudi Arabian national, and two Yemeni nationals were reportedly arrested on 20 October at the border with Saudi Arabia for suspected membership of al-Qa'ida. The Yemeni authorities were reported to have stated that the suspects would appear before a judge; however by the end of the year AI was not aware of any charges being brought against them.
  • On 20 October, President 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh announced that those detained in connection with al-Qa'ida "with no blood in their hands" would be released during the month of Ramadan. At least 34 suspected members of al-Qa'ida were released in November after they "expressed regret for their radical past".

Refugees and forcible deportation of foreign nationals

Dozens of Somali and Ethiopian possible asylum-seekers reportedly drowned in three separate incidents in the Gulf of Aden. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that some of them drowned after they were forced at gunpoint to jump into the sea by crew members. Others were reportedly killed following arguments between the crew and the passengers.

More than 1,000 foreign nationals were reportedly deported for security reasons, many to countries where they were at risk of human rights abuses. Most were targeted because of their nationality and were held for weeks or months incommunicado before being expelled. They included Ethiopian, Indian, Libyan, Somali, Sudanese and Syrian nationals, as well as Saudi Arabian nationals who were exchanged for Yemeni nationals arrested in Saudi Arabia.

  • In September, Yemen handed over to the Saudi Arabian authorities eight Saudi Arabian nationals, including Bandar al-Ghamdi, who was reportedly detained in connection with bombings in Riyadh in May, and his wife and daughter. The group was reported to have been forcibly returned following a visit by a Saudi Arabian security team to Yemen.

Demonstrations during the Iraq war

On 21 March, thousands of people demonstrated in Sana'a against the war on Iraq. Four Yemenis, including an 11-year-old boy, were reportedly killed and scores injured when security forces fired on the demonstrators using live ammunition and tear gas. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested and subsequently released. Among them were four opposition party leaders. The government announced that an investigation would be carried out into the deaths and injuries. By the end of the year no further information had been made available.

Harassment of journalists

Restrictions on the freedom of the press and harassment of journalists continued.

  • In March, three journalists – 'Ali al-Saqaf, Ahmad Said Nasser and Abdel 'Aziz Ismail – were each given four-month suspended prison sentences for "harming Yemeni-Saudi relations". The accusation was based on articles in the newspaper al-Wahdawi that allegedly insulted the Saudi Arabian royal family. However, on 27 January, the Appeal Court lifted a life ban on working as a journalist imposed on Jamal Amer, a journalist on al-Wahdawi. Jamal Amer had been found guilty in 2000 of writing an article which was deemed insulting to Saudi Arabia.

Torture and ill-treatment

In September, the Yemeni government submitted a report to the UN Committee against Torture. The Committee welcomed Yemen's reform of its legal system but expressed concerns, including about the lack of definition of torture in the law, the practice of incommunicado detention by the Political Security, the lack of detainees' access to lawyers, and Yemen's failure to investigate promptly allegations of torture. It urged Yemen, among other things, to ensure that all "counter-terrorism" measures would be taken in full conformity with the UN Convention against Torture.

Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. Yemen submitted examples of cases to the Committee where investigations into torture allegations were carried out. However, no independent investigations into torture allegations submitted by AI were known to have been carried out.

  • Sami Yassin al-Sharjabi was reportedly tortured while held incommunicado in police custody between 26 December 2002 and 14 January 2003 on suspicion of murder. A complaint was submitted and in January the Attorney General requested an investigation into the torture allegations. However, no investigation was known to have been initiated by the end of the year.
  • Fourteen-year-old Mohammad Sa'id al-Zaidi was allegedly subjected to psychological torture after he was detained by security officers outside his home in Sana'a on 5 August. He was held with adult prisoners in an underground location until his release on 2 September. Mohammad al-Zaidi was reportedly arrested to try and force his brother, Hassan al-Zaidi, to hand himself in to the authorities. Hassan al-Zaidi, a journalist with the Yemen Times newspaper, had written articles criticizing the government.

Death penalty

Death sentences continued to be passed and at least 30 people were executed. Hundreds of people remained under sentence of death at the end of 2003.

  • On 26 May the Appeal Court in Ta'iz commuted the death sentence of Hammoud Murshed Hassan Ahmad, a possible prisoner of conscience, to 12 years' imprisonment and the payment of diya (blood money) of around US$15,000. An army captain in the former Democratic Republic of Yemen, he had been convicted of a murder that allegedly took place in 1982. He continued to appeal against his conviction.
  • Fuad Ali Muhsin al-Ashahari was reported to have been verbally informed at the beginning of December 2002 by the Public Prosecutor that his appeal was missing 24 pages. His case was sent to the Supreme Court of Justice.
  • Ali Jarallah was sentenced to death on 14 September. He was convicted of the murder of Jarallah Omar, assistant Secretary General of the Yemeni Socialist Party, in December 2002.
  • Nabil al-Mankali, a Spanish national, was at risk of imminent execution after President 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh reportedly ratified the death sentence against him in September. It was subsequently reported that the President had reprieved him at the last minute, but the status of his death sentence was not clear at the end of the year. Officials from the European Union and a number of Spanish officials called on the Yemeni authorities to show clemency.
  • Mohammed Qasim Ragih was executed on 7 May after he was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two children.
  • At least one woman, 20-year-old Layla Radman 'A'esh, remained under sentence of death by stoning. She had been convicted of adultery in 2000; her appeal was still pending at the end of 2003.

Violence against women

The very active women's movement in Yemen continued its efforts to further women's rights and campaign against violence against women.

In May, the Women's Association in cooperation with Oxfam and the World Bank organized a training workshop in Aden on putting an end to violence in the family. The training workshop dealt with the definition of violence against women, the different forms of domestic violence, and the underlying causes of violence against women. A further workshop in June focused on the role of women in the judiciary.

In September, the Civic Democratic Initiatives Support Foundation held a workshop attended by members of civil society. The workshop called for the enactment of laws amending discriminatory legislation, and the drawing up of projects and programs to limit violence against women.

AI country reports visits

AI delegates visited Yemen in September and explored cooperation with non-governmental organizations in the campaign to end violence against women.

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