Talal Al-Taib is called the Ashmawi of Yemen. His father, who died towards the end of 2004, was the most famous person in Yemen to implement executions against those sentenced for death by Yemeni courts.
Abdul Nasser Al-Mamlouh: Since when have you been doing this job “implementing execution sentences” or the Ashmawi?
Talal Al-Taib: Since my father’s death (towards the ends of 2004). My father used to do this job and I replaced him now.
AM: And for how long was your father implementing execution sentences?
TT: He started this job as soon as he joined the military; since the early 1970s if I am right.
AM: Were you accompanying him?
TT: Sometimes … I often noticed that my father did not want anyone of my brothers or me to do this job. He was keen about making us complete our education; but it was a quirk of fate that brought me to this job.
AM: Did you graduate from university?
TT: Yes and I graduated from the Faculty of Commerce, Sana’a University. I specialized in accounting. I left my specialization following my father’s death and I did this job. I was somewhat interested in it, but my father objected then.
TT: Because he was working in this job at the time, and didn’t want to make one of my brothers or me to take his place while he is still alive. Second, my father wanted us to study and complete our education.
AM: How did you become Ashmawi?
TT: It was a quirk of fate. My father died after he implemented an execution sentence in Ramadan. He implemented the ruling in the morning and died in the afternoon of the same day. He died at about 5 pm. He was afflicted with a heart attack. My father died on Wednesday in September 2004 and he was supposed to implement another execution sentence on Saturday of that week. We were called on Thursday and were told that my father had to execute a convict on Saturday. When informing that Saleh Al-Taib died, they were shocked. This caused uproar.
TT: My father died on Wednesday and we were told that he had to implement an execution sentence on Saturday – meaning there should be an alternative and Thursday and Friday are holidays.
AM: Did they ask you for an alternative?
TT: Some guards in the Central Prison implemented Saturday’s execution sentence and other executions, but they were not successful. Their execution was refused by many people, because their performance was bad?
AM: The matter is no more than implementing the execution with few bullets fired on the convict, so how come that their performance was bad?
TT: There are several factors at the top of which is fear. When somebody is implementing an execution ruling – while he is confused and frightened – this will reflect in his way of implementation. They were not psychologically prepared for such an act. Thus, we were contacted to find if someone from our family is interested to take over his job. After consultations among my family members, I was nominated for this job.
AM: Did the concerned authorities in the Central Prison put some conditions for such a job?
TT: There are some conditions. The Ashmawi must be police affiliate. I was then affiliated with the air forces. When I came to the Central Prison, they were having four execution cases. I did my job perfectly and this led the Prison’s director to say that Saleh Al-Taib is still alive (meaning I did the job in the same way my father had done it). He started the required measures to transfer me from air forces to police.
Am: How many execution rulings have you implemented so far?
TT: I implemented 16 execution sentences while I was still an affiliate of air forces. Since 2004, I have executed 100 men and a woman.
AM: How many people did your father execute?
TT: He executed 2879 men and 14 women.
AM: Have you noticed strange things when implementing executions?
TT: One strange thing was executing a man who I think his heart was in the right side. I or any other Ashmawi must shoot the convict on his heart. I fired on his left side directly to his heart, I found his heart was still throbbing despite the fact that a human being’s heart is so weak and one bullet is enough.
AM: Have you told the prison’s administration and the doctor, and did your father face such cases?
TT: No … but I can assure them after execution that the convict’s heart is not in the left side. My father faced about four cases. I think this has been proved and one person out of 10,000 has his heart in the right side of the chest.
AM: What measures you follow before implementing the execution?
TT: I read the court ruling and other details. I think you have noticed this while I was preparing to execute the child’s rapist last week. I can give details about this person after so many years. I have an archive for everything even signatures and wills.
AM: Can you object implementing an execution and ask another to do the job?
TT: No … things are not as you think them to be. Why should I refuse? I am implementing a ruling endorsed by the prosecution. Even when you do not have time to read the ruling, you will hear it recited in the execution field. I am simply implementing a judicial ruling, so I do not get affected by doubts and suchlike things.
AM: Let’s assume that you have noticed something not realized by the judge e.g. from your conversation with witnesses and the like?
TT: This is possible. This could affect, but, in such a case, I go to the victim’s family and ask them to let off the convict. I did this many times and I am still doing so. However, I do not interfere for any person who does deserve to be executed. Once two people were sentenced to death, and while in the execution field, I interfered and I asked the victim’s family for forgiveness. My efforts were successful as the family let off one of the convicts. This happened in 2005.
AM: After execution, do not you feel some worry or disgust?
TT: Never! I feel as if I perform a religious duty and I expect God’s reward. I do not kill … it is not enough for the person who executes to have a daring heart and to have strong faith. He has to be content that he is applying Sharee’ah for which you expect God’s reward.
AM: You must have a daring heart because you are Ashmawi … but are you hard in your dealings with people outside?
TT: Things are not the way you think e.g. the surgeon does tear the patient’s parts. When doing so, this does not mean that he is merciless or violent. This will not be reflected in his dealings with people. He might have more mercy in his heart than others. I can’t talk about myself, because “the one who praises himself is a liar”.
AM: But people view you as merciless?
TT: I am always kind, but there is a difference between mercy and dignity. I deal with people with a kind heart, with keeping my dignity. When I go outside my zone, I try not to reveal that I am Ashmawi. My job is in the Central Prison and it is not beyond its doors. I am like any other policeman.
AM: Are there reasons that force you not to disclo