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Media Briefing: Yemen

A summary of key Amnesty International human rights concerns on Yemen:

Unfair trials and prisoners of conscience
In recent years hundreds of people in Yemen have been jailed after unfair trials.

Those the Yemeni authorities accuse of involvement with al-Qa’ida or of being supporters of the (now deceased) Shi’a cleric Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi (from the restive northern province of Sa’da) have frequently been subjected to unfair trials before the country’s notorious Specialised Criminal Court.

Others who have been brought before unfair courts include people accused of spying for Iran or Egypt, and an artist jailed for 18 months for insulting the president after he satirised him and the Yemeni authorities’ crackdown on protests in the south of the country.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

“An extremely worrying trend has developed where the Yemeni authorities, under pressure from the USA and others to fight al-Qa’ida, and Saudi Arabia to deal with the Huthis, have been citing national security as a pretext to deal with opposition and stifle all criticism.”

Heavy-handed response to Northern rebels

Yemen’s heavy-handed response to the Huthi rebel group in the north has led to a massive assault on the region by Yemen’s armed forces, including months of attacks from autumn 2009 with heavy aerial bombardments, including from Saudi Arabian forces.

Though the joint Yemeni-Saudi attacks were largely unreported at the time, Amnesty has gained information pointing to hundreds - possibly thousands - of civilians being killed in the bombing. In one attack on the town of al-Nadir in November reportedly conducted by Saudi forces, so many were killed in just one extended family that witnesses say the family “had to create a cemetery for themselves”.

UK arms
Amnesty arms experts believe it extremely likely that the Saudi air force deployed UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers in the strikes and in August 2010 the organisation called for the UK government to urgently investigate the matter and meanwhile suspend any further arms supplies to Saudi Arabia. 

There are reports that many people detained in Yemen have been tortured into making false confessions and that their lawyers were then denied documents when trying to mount a proper defence.

Torture from police officers is so common that they appear to act with virtual impunity - both in political cases and ordinary criminal ones. Reported types of abuse include beating with sticks, burning with cigarettes, prolonged suspension by the wrists or ankles, being stripped naked and subjected to threats of sexual abuse, as well as punching, kicking and other forms of physical attack.

Persecution of journalists
Numerous journalists have been tried and jailed for reporting on “sensitive” topics like the Huthi rebellion or the southern secessionist movement. In 2008, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, the former editor of a Yemeni weekly newspaper, was jailed for six years for reporting on clashes between Huthi rebels and government forces. While in prison he was given Amnesty’s “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”. He was released later that year. 

Discrimination against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights
Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Yemen are not free to marry a partner of their choice and girls as young as eight are forced into marriages with older men. Wives are generally under the total control of their husbands and may only leave the family home with his permission (article 40 of the Personal Status Law). Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man, the families of murdered Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are entitled to half the compensation of a man’s family and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are denied equal inheritance rights. There are lenient sentences for men who murder wives in so-called “honour killings”.

Death penalty
There have been numerous death sentences passed in trials of people accused of links to al-Qa’ida or to the Huthi armed group. In 2009, at least 34 people accused of links to Huthis were sentenced to death. There are now hundreds of prisoners on death row in Yemen, including Children's rights.

In 2009 at least 30 people were executed (execution is carried out by shooting). This was the sixth highest number of executions in the world in 2009.

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