Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Yemen

Political context

In Yemen, the political situation remained marked in 2008 by the armed conflict that opposed from June 2004 until August 2008 the authorities and the rebellion led by partisans of the Zaidi religious leader Hussain Badr Al-Din Al-Huthi in the region of Saada, in the north of the country. The conflict resulted in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of displaced persons since the start of the clashes.1 In addition, the authorities carried out numerous waves of arrests. Hundreds of rebels, some of their families and many people suspected of sympathising with the armed movement were arrested, essentially because they were Zaidi members. Arrests also comprised several political activists, journalists and human rights defenders who had condemned human rights violations, in particular the waves of arbitrary arrests carried out by the Yemeni authorities. For example, Mr. Mohamed Miftah, former Imam at the Sana'a Mosque and a member of the Al-Haqq political party, was arrested on May 21, 2008 and detained at a secret location until August 31, 2008, and released on September 7, 2008 without being brought before a judge.2 The President of Yemen, Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, indeed ordered in September the release of numerous prisoners arrested in relation to the Saada conflict. However, as of the end of 2008, 69 of them were still held in detention without having been tried.3

In 2008, the Yemeni authorities also faced large-scale social demonstrations in the south of the country. Since the end of the civil war in 1994, many voices raised in the southern provinces to denounce, amongst others, the despoilment of previously nationalised lands and the discrimination against soldiers and civil servants in the south who had been forcibly retired after 1994.4 The claims for an end to these discriminatory practises increasingly found echo in the southern population in the past few years. On January 13, 2008, tens of thousands of people gathered in Aden to support the demands made by the Committee of Retired Army Personnel. This demonstration and those that followed were violently repressed by the security forces, which fired live ammunition on demonstrators, killing seven people, including four on January 13, and wounding 75.5 860 people were also arrested, 20 of whom were still reported as missing as of the end of 2008.6 Ninety people were deferred before the courts for "attacks on national unity" and 54 of them were given from one month's suspended sentence to three years in prison.7 As at the end of December 2008, hundreds of people were still held in different prisons in the country.

The Yemeni media were affected by the political and social tensions that shook the country during 2008. On March 14, 2008, the authorities banned distribution of the weekly newspaper Al-Sabbah, which was accused of covering demonstrations in the south of the country and in certain governorates in the north in a manner that was "detrimental to national unity". The distribution of the monthly Abwab was also banned by the authorities.8 On April 5, 2008, the Information Ministry cancelled the licence of the weekly newspaper Al-Wasat.9 The authorities also blocked access for several months to websites such as yemenportal.net and aleshteraki.net, the press organs of the main opposition party.10

Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly and harassment of lawyers involved in defending protestors

In 2008, the authorities targeted some of the lawyers who defended persons arrested during the demonstrations that took place in the southern provinces. On May 17, 2008, Ms. Afrae Al-Hariri, a lawyer and Chair of the Women's Help and Protection Centre, was arrested in the company of Ms. Zahrae Saleh, Chair of the women's section of the League of Sons of Yemen political party (Râbitat Abnâ' al-Yaman-Râ'y – RAY), during a rally organised in solidarity with the protests in the southern provinces. She was detained for several hours before being transferred to a detention centre without a warrant. She was then released without charge. Two days later, Ms. Al-Hariri was arrested again by the security forces, who wrongly accused her of having driven off after accidentally knocking over a child. Proceedings were opened against her and were pending as of the end of 2008.11 In addition, on August 11, 2008, the security services arrested Mr. Mohamed Ali Al-Saqqaf at Sana'a airport while he and his family were preparing to board the plane for Dubai. This arrest was apparently due to the involvement of Mr. Al-Saqqaf in defending persons arrested during the social demonstrations. He was then detained for two days in the prison of the criminal investigation department in Sana'a before being released on August 13, on the condition that he present himself to the authorities as soon as he was asked to do so.12

Reprisals against defenders and journalists who denounce human rights violations

In 2008, several human rights defenders, including journalists, were attacked by the authorities for having denounced, sometimes in briefings or in articles, grave human rights violations, in particular those linked to the management of the armed conflict in the northern provinces and the repression of demonstrations in the south of the country. As an example, the authorities tried to intimidate Mr. Ali Al-Dailami, Executive Director of the Yemeni Organisation for the Defence of Democratic Rights and Freedoms: on May 22, 2008, the police surrounded his house but, as they did not find him, they arrested his brother Hassan and took him to a detention centre where they beat him. He was released the next day with the order to inform his brother that he should stop his human rights activities.13 On June 9, 2008, Mr. Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, former Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Shoura, was sentenced to six years in prison by the Sana'a State Security Court for "collaborating with the rebels" after the publication of articles condemning the repression linked to the Saada war. Furthermore, Mr. Al-Khaiwani, who suffers from diabetes and has a heart problem, was denied medical treatment throughout his detention period.14 The President of the Republic pardoned him on September 25, 2008.15 Similarly, Mr. Luai Al-Moayad, a member of the Yemeni Organisation for the Defence of Democratic Rights and Freedoms and Executive Director of the website yemenhurr.net, was arrested at his home on June 30, 2008 following the publication of information on the Saada conflict. He was held at a secret location for over two months before being released on September 12, 2008 without charge. As at the end of 2008, Messrs. Nayef Hassan, Nabeel Subei and Mahmoud Taha, three journalists from the weekly newspaper Al-Shari', were still prosecuted by the Defence Ministry for "the dissemination and publication of information likely to undermine army morale" following the publication of an article in June 2007 denouncing the regime's use of tribal combatants against Huthi rebels. They incur the death penalty.16 Finally, on November 2, 2008, Mr. Abd Al-Hafed Moejeb, a correspondent for the daily newspaper Al-Ayyam, was arrested by the police force at a checkpoint at Aïn Ali. The police searched his vehicle, scattered his belongings on the ground and hit him when he tried to make a phone call. They then took him to an unknown location where he was forced to sign blank documents. This arrest appeared to be linked to the work of Mr. Abd Al-Hafed Moejeb with Al-Ayyam, the daily newspaper with the largest distribution in the country, which became famous for its coverage of the demonstrations in the southern provinces.17

Attacks on human rights defenders' freedom of movement

In 2008, several defenders were prevented from leaving the national territory because of their human rights activities. On November 29, 2008, Sana'a airport national security agents prevented Mr. Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani18 from going to Cairo where he was due to take part in a human rights conference organised on November 30 by the Egyptian National Human Rights Council and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The authorities informed him that the ban was imposed at the request of the Sana'a airport passport department. Other people, notably Ms. Afrae Al-Hariri, were also prevented from taking the plane.19

1 In August 2008, official sources reported 90,000 internally displaced persons. However, the exact number of displaced persons varied according to the sources and the different periods of the conflict.

2 As of the end of 2008, it had not been possible to obtain information regarding the charges against him. See Hewar Forum and Human Rights Watch Report, Disappearances and Arbitrary Arrests in the Armed Conflict with Huthi Rebels in Yemen, October 2008.

3 See Front Line Press Release, December 15, 2008.

4 At the end of the war thousands of military personnel and civil servants of the former Democratic Republic of Yemen (south Yemen) were forcibly retired. Since then they have continued their demands to benefit from pensions identical to those of other military personnel or, for the younger ones, to be employed in other positions.

5 See Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights (YOHR), Report on the Right to Peaceful Assembly, 2008.

6 Idem.

7 In particular, Mr. Yahia Ghaleb Al-Shuaibi, a lawyer and member of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), who had taken part in demonstrations in the south of the country, was arrested during the night of March 31, 2008. He was held at a secret location for 15 days before being deferred before a judge. The President of the Republic granted him a pardon on September 11. Mr. Al-Shuaibi, together with two other members of YSP, was accused of having encouraged demonstrations that led to clashes with the forces of order. See Yemen Centre for Human Rights Studies (YCHRS) and National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (Hood).

8 See Sisters' Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) Press Release, March 14, 2008. The Information Ministry reproached the weekly Al-Sabbah for not respecting the legal procedure when it was created. The monthly Abwab (printed abroad) was seized at Sana'a airport. The cover of the magazine showing President Ali Abdullah Saleh was judged disrespectful of the presidential function.

9 The weekly newspaper, considered one of the main opposition newspapers, was accused of having "undermined national unity, stirred up religious divisions and damaged relations with neighbouring countries" after it published articles that were critical of Saudi Arabia. On April 5, the Yemeni courts cancelled the ruling of the Justice Ministry. See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, April 10, 2008.

10 See RSF Press Releases, January 24 and March 24, 2008.

11 See YOHR.

12 Idem.

13 See Hewar Forum.

14 See YOHR, YCHRS and Hood.

15 See RSF Press Release, September 25, 2008.

16 See SAF and RSF Press Releases, March 20 and November 26, 2008.

17 See Hood.

18 See above.

19 See SAF Press Release, November 30, 2008.


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