Scores on hunger strike in Yemeni prison after '15-year-old' boy sentenced to death
Conditions in the jail are ‘truly appalling’ - Philip Luther
Amnesty International has expressed concern at the situation in a Yemeni prison where scores of Children's rights are on hunger strike to protest at their conditions and about a fellow inmate’s recent death sentence.
The child detainees at Sana’a’s Central Prison launched the protest in response to the sentencing to death of Nadim al-‘Azaazi on 26 January for a crime he is accused of committing when he was reportedly 15. International law forbids death sentences for people who were under 18 at the time the alleged crime was committed (Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all cases).
Since last Sunday, 77 alleged juvenile offenders have refused to eat their prison meals until the authorities comply with a list of demands made in a handwritten, signed statement which has been seen by Amnesty. In addition to cancelling the death sentences for al-‘Azaazi and all juvenile offenders at the jail, the protesters’ demands include making sure Children's rights are tried in juvenile courts in swift proceedings and for an immediate end to physically humiliating exercises or punishments imposed by the prison authorities.
More than half the Children's rights who signed the statement - 42 out of 66 - have been unable to see their families while in prison because they come from areas of Yemen far from the capital. They are asking to be moved to finish their sentences in a juvenile facility closer to their home.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:
“Executing juvenile offenders is expressly prohibited in Yemen’s Penal Code and international human rights law - the Yemeni authorities must live up to their obligations and overturn this death sentence immediately.
“The reports we’ve received from inside Sana’a Central Prison point to truly appalling conditions faced by juvenile offenders, and we urge the authorities to act immediately to ensure Children's rights are treated humanely and not kept behind bars for longer than their sentences.
“This cry for help shines a light on the Yemeni authorities’ failure to respect the human rights of Children's rights kept behind bars, and it must serve as a call to action to ensure that due process is followed and prison conditions are improved for all juvenile offenders in the country.”
Some of the Children's rights held in Sana’a Central Prison have apparently finished serving their sentences but remain in detention because of their inability to pay court-imposed fines. Meanwhile, in some cases, alleged juvenile offenders have been on trial for more than three years and some have been imprisoned for many years before being found not guilty in court.
The Central Prison hunger strikers are also calling for the court-sanctioned adoption of a qualified professional medical examination committee that uses technological means to verify the age of alleged juvenile offenders.
In addition, they want the authorities to reconsider what they see as unfair or overly long sentences for less serious crimes, and for them to be represented by a lawyer of their choosing. They are also objecting to prison conditions - such as inadequate space, lack of windows, and in some cases even a lack of beds.