For Immediate Release
Yemen: End Harsh Repression in South
Shooting of Unarmed Demonstrators, Attacks on Media
SAN'A - Yemeni authorities should stop using unjustified lethal force
against protesters and end attacks on the media in southern Yemen,
Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 73-page report, "In the Name of Unity: The Yemeni Government's Brutal Response to Southern Movement Protests,"
documents attacks by security forces on supporters of the so-called
Southern Movement as well as on journalists, academics, and other
opinion-makers. Based on over 80 interviews with victims in the
southern Yemeni cities of Aden and Mukalla, the report finds that
security forces used lethal force against unarmed demonstrators on at
least six occasions. Over the past year the authorities arbitrarily
arrested thousands of people for exercising their right to peaceful
assembly, suspended independent media critical of government policies,
and detained journalists and writers on spurious charges.
"Yemeni authorities are violating basic rights in the
name of maintaining national unity," said Joe Stork, deputy director at
Human Rights Watch's Middle East division. "Southern Yemenis should
have the right to peacefully assemble and express their opinions, even
on critical issues like secession."
North and South Yemen united as one country in May 1990, but
fought a brief civil war in 1994 in which the north prevailed. Southern
Yemenis contend that central authorities then dismissed many
southerners from the army and government employment and denied southern
Yemen its fair share of national resources. Protests in 2007, initially
led by retired military officers calling for increased pensions or
reinstatement, quickly grew to encompass demands for more jobs, less
corruption, and a greater share of oil revenues.Subsequently, the protests have been led by the Southern
Movement, a loose gathering of protest leaders whose demands have
escalated to include secession and formation of an independent state.
On six occasions during 2008 and 2009, Human Rights Watch found in its
investigation, security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters, often
without warning and aiming at them from short range. At least 11 people
were killed and dozens were wounded.
These protests occurred on May 31, 2009, in al-Dhali'; May 30,
2009, in Shahr; May 21, 2009, in Hashimi Square, Aden; April 15, 2009,
in Habilain; July 4, 2008, in Mafraq al-Shu'aib, al-Dhali'; and January
13, 2008, also in Aden's Hashimi Square.
The Southern Movement is avowedly peaceful, though many civilians
in the south have weapons. Since July there have been more reports of
protesters bringing weapons to demonstrations. Following a Southern
Movement protest on July 23, in Zanjibar, Abyan province, armed guards
of Shaikh Tariq al-Fadhli, a Southern Movement leader, fought a pitched
gun battle with security forces some distance from the protest site in
which at least 12 died and 18 were wounded.
The southern protests often are planned for days of historical
significance, such as the anniversary of independence from Great
Britain in 1967. In its report, Human Rights Watch documents arbitrary
arrests of scores of people, including children, before or during these
protests. Some of those arrested were peaceful participants, while
others were simply passers-by. Although the authorities released most
within a matter of days, suspected protest leaders have been held for
longer periods, resulting in subsequent demonstrations demanding their
release, which have led to fresh police violence.
In a campaign that appeared to escalate in May, Yemeni
authorities have also suspended newspapers, attacked media offices, and
arrested - and in some cases charged and tried -journalists, apparently
for expressing their views peacefully.
The information minister, Hasan al-Luzi, suspended distribution of
eight newspapers in May. By July, some, but not all, were allowed to
resume publication. On May 12, security forces fought an hour-long gun
battle with guards at the Aden compound of Al-Ayyam, Yemen's oldest and largest-circulation independent newspaper, killing one bystander and severely wounding another.
Gha'id Nasr Ali, the Radfan correspondent for Al-Shari' and Al-Thawri
newspapers, was arrested in April 2008 and again in January 2009 over
coverage of protests. In May, and again in July, security forces
prevented Al Jazeera satellite television station correspondents in
Aden from leaving their hotel rooms to cover protests. Authorities also
arrested website editors and writers covering protests.
Trials have begun in 2009 against a few dissidents and
opinion-makers based on charges that criminalize free expression. Qasim
‘Askar, a former ambassador of the South Yemeni state, is on trial for
"threatening national unity," as is Husain ‘Aqil, an Aden university
professor and Southern Movement spokesperson. Salah al-Saqladi, a
website editor, went on trial in mid-November, on charges of "insulting
the president," "stirring up strife and inciting against unity," "being
in contact with secessionists abroad," and "incitement of violence." In
July, a court of first instance in Qubaita, Lahj province sentenced the
local Al-Ayyam correspondent, Anis Mansur, to 14 months in prison for his coverage of southern protests.
"Yemen's reputation as a country where one can freely speak one's
mind is being badly damaged," said Stork. "The government's recent
attacks on the media and journalists are unprecedented and herald a
dark chapter of state repression if they continue."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.