When Yemenis took to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, back in 2011 to call for the ouster of then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, emboldened by the Arab Spring movement, dozens of protesters were picked by the state security apparatus and thrown in jail on account they posed a threat to national security.
As Yemen’s revolutionary dust began to settle and while politicians agreed to debate, defend and promote their calls for change at the National Dialogue Conference table as opposed to the streets where all agreed too much blood had already been spilled, the coalition government promised that all political prisoners would be release.
And while indeed many men and women were set free by the security forces under strict presidential orders, a small cluster of prisoners have been forgotten.
Human Rights Watch which has been keeping a close eye on Yemen has now called on the government to intervene and arrange the immediate and unconditional release of Yemen’s last five revolutionary detainees. Although President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued a decree in May 2013 ordering their deliverance, the men have remained under lock and key.
Abdullah Saed al-Ta`ami, Mohammed Ahmed Ali Omar, Shuaib Mohammed al-Bajari, Ibrahim Hammoud al-Hammadi and Ghalib al-Ayzeri have all been held in connection with June 2011 attack against the presidential palace at the height of Yemen’s uprising.
Initially Yemen security forces arrested 32 people in connection with the bombing including one woman). The matter first made it to the media in May 2013, when detainees staged a hunger strike, calling for rights activists to plead their case to the international community and exert political pressure onto the coalition government.
Human Rights Minister Hooriah Mashour was the first one to react. She immediately took the matter to President Hadi and warned she would not let the matter rest until all detainees are safely release back to their families.
All but five prisoners were subsequently cleared and let go by the prosecutor general.
Frustrated by President Hadi’s political apathy regarding the men’s fate, Human Rights Watch has launched a new campaign, hoping that by gathering some new momentum Yemeni officials will feel more incline to help solve what activist have called “blatant injustice”.
“In keeping these men behind bars President Hadi’s government is acting like Yemen’s old abusive regime,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director. “Keeping people locked up against the law and presidential orders send a message that this government doesn’t care about human rights.”
Human Rights Watch has claimed that all five detainees have endured torture and ill-treatment by the hands of their jailors.
Despite a presidential decree ordering the authorities to set free all 32 detainees, the general prosecutor has without giving any justification or specifics estimated such order did not apply to the that particular five prisoners due to their alleged appurtenance to a criminal gang which aim was to assassinate former President Saleh.
Ever since Judge Hilal Hamid Ali Mahfal recused himself from the case in August 2013, the five have been waiting for a new judge to be appointed and their case examined.
Well-known lawyer and rights activist Abdulrahman Barman, who is also member of HOOD, has been handling all five men case pro bono.
As per noted by Human Rights Watch this Wednesday in its appeal, “Article 14 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Yemen is a party, requires a trial without undue delay for anyone accused of a crime.”
Moreover, “General Comment 32, in which the UN Human Rights Committee interprets the covenant, states: “In cases where the accused are denied bail by the court, they must be tried as expeditiously as possible. This guarantee relates not only to the time between the formal charging of the accused and the time by which a trial should commence, but also the time until the final judgment on appeal. All stages, whether in first instance or on appeal must take place “without undue delay.””
HRW now argues that Yemen stands in violation not only of international law but its own penal system since all five detainees have been languishing in detention for over two years without a judge having been able to make a decision or even review their case individually.
“Holding people for over two years without trial is a clear violation of their rights,” Stork said, adding, “The delays don’t stem from serious investigations instead, political forces are postponing the course of justice.”