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Imprisonment in Yemen: Tragic Conditions of Inmates
  Written By: Abdul Malik Shamsan (FOR THE YEMEN POST)
  Article Date:
February 0
9, 2009



Under Yemen's constitution the Islamic Sharia law remains the only source for legislation in the country. 

When seeing the conditions of inmates in Yemen, one can judge that prisoners don't enjoy their rights stipulated by the Sharia-based constitution. 

Under law, prisoners enjoy many rights including medical, psychological and mental care with jail administration separating prisoners with infectious diseases from other healthy inmates.

Furthermore, prisoners must get clean drinking water, well-chosen meals, and clothes for summer and winter and spick and span bedrooms.

Prisoners must not be chained and they must be provided with instruments to maintain a good appearance such as those to cut hair, beard and mustache.

Authorities claim they don't provide prisoners with such instruments as they fear prisoners could use them to hurt themselves. It is true that some prisoners use these tools to commit suicide, but such an unacceptable excuse is not sufficient as all world countries fear this as well but still allow them.

Under law, jail administrations also have to provide toilets for prisoners along with safe water and other necessary requirements. 

Hardship at prison and Abu Khalid's decision   

All mentioned above are simple rights of prisoners under law; nonetheless, bullying laws have a different view  in Yemen. 

Abu Khalid Abdullah Muhammad, who was jailed two years ago on suspicion, says he was held without an arrest warrant.

At prison he was not allowed to call his family or a lawyer, he says. 

His family knew he was jailed two days after imprisonment when he called them by a phone of a prisoner who said he secretly managed to bring a cell phone to the jail. 

Abu Khalid says that inmates in Yemeni jails are sometimes not served meals; however, he says these prisoners receive food from their families. 

A prisoner whose family is far from the area where he is jailed has to share the food of his jail mates at times.

Sometimes meals prisoners' families send for their relatives don't reach them while sometimes they reach incomplete.   

He affirms that clean drinking water is not available at Yemeni jails, saying inmates drink from bathrooms taps. No beds and blankets and those whose families don't provide them with beds and blankets have nothing to do but to sleep on the ground as Abu Khalid did.

In Yemen, healthy and ill inmates are both put in one room.

“One night I woke up to find an inmate beside  me coughing hardly and holding his head with his hands,” Abu Khalid said. 

“We did not know what he was suffering from and we called loudly guards at the jail kicking windows and the door by hands and feet but none of the guards heard us. They were far from the room in which we were jailed,” Abu Khalid added. 

Journalist Anis Hamida was arrested last week while covering an activity of the southern anti-government movement. He was sent to the Aden Al-Mansoura prison.  

Hamida said in a report published last week that the conditions of inmates at the prison are tragic as there are no beds, blankets and enough toilets. 

There is only one bathroom at which almost 83 inmates queue to use.  

Meals prices at the prison are more than double and there is no medical care for prisoners.

The prisoners are usually bit by different insects, Hamida's report noted. 

Earlier, newspapers published reports on an inmate who was affected by a mentally ill mate.

Illegal infringement 

Prisoners not only suffer violations related to not being provided with necessary requirements at jail enshrined by law, but are also physically and mentally abused. Prisoners are mostly insulted and beaten by jail officials since their arrest at street or homes and on police cars even at jails.

According to the law, prisoners  have  the right to sue jail authorities if they  are maltreated. 

Human rights authorities and organizations concerned with defending the rights of inmates take no action in this regard. With this happening, all a prisoner wishes is only to leave jail. 

And as the rights of prisoners are urged to be respected, a question needs to be asked. does extra comfort requirements of prisoners at jail contradict with the Sharia and laws?

A Lebanese writer wrote after visiting Australia saying "last year I paid $1000 to subscribe in a sport club under the advice of my doctor who told me to exercise.” “But prisoners in Australia practice sport exercises with modern equipment, receive wages, eat various meals and they watch TV for free,” the Lebanese writer says.


Penal authorities in Yemen must adhere to the articles of the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Geneva, 22 August-3 September 1955. These articles include the following:

- Where sleeping accommodation is in individual cells or rooms, each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself. If for special reasons, such as temporary overcrowding, it becomes necessary for the central prison administration to make an exception to this rule, it is not desirable to have two prisoners in a cell or room.

- Where dormitories are used, they shall be occupied by prisoners carefully selected as being suitable to associate with one another in those conditions. There shall be regular supervision by night, in keeping with the nature of the institution.

- All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.

- The windows shall be large enough to enable the prisoners to read or work by natural light, and shall be so constructed that they can allow the entrance of fresh air whether or not there is artificial ventilation.

- Artificial light shall be provided for the prisoners to read or work without injury to eyesight.

- The sanitary installations shall be adequate to enable every prisoner to comply with the needs of nature when necessary and in a clean and decent manner.

- Adequate bathing and shower installations shall be provided so that every prisoner may be enabled and required to have a bath or shower, at a temperature suitable to the climate, as frequently as necessary for general hygiene according to season and geographical region, but at least once a week in a temperate climate.

- All pans of an institution regularly used by prisoners shall be properly maintained and kept scrupulously clean at all times.

- Prisoners shall be required to keep their persons clean, and to this end they shall be provided with water and with such toilet articles as are necessary for health and cleanliness.

- In order that prisoners may maintain a good appearance compatible with their self-respect, facilities shall be provided for the proper care of the hair and beard, and men shall be enabled to shave regularly.

- Every prisoner who is not allowed to wear his own clothing shall be provided with an outfit of clothing suitable for the climate and adequate to keep him in good health. Such clothing shall in no manner be degrading or humiliating.

- All clothing shall be clean and kept in proper condition. Underclothing shall be changed and washed as often as necessary for the maintenance of hygiene.

- In exceptional circumstances, whenever a prisoner is removed outside the institution for an authorized purpose, he shall be allowed to wear his own clothing or other inconspicuous clothing.

- Every prisoner shall, in accordance with local or national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness.

- Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.

- Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.

- Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.

- Young prisoners, and others of suitable age and physique, shall receive physical and recreational training during the period of exercise. To this end space, installations and equipment should be provided.

Medical services in the law

- At every institution there shall be available the services of at least one qualified medical officer who should have some knowledge of psychiatry. The medical services should be organized in close relationship to the general health administration of the community or nation. They shall include a psychiatric service for the diagnosis and, in proper cases, the treatment of states of mental abnormality.

- Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Where hospital facilities are provided in an institution, their equipment, furnishings and pharmaceutical supplies shall be proper for the medical care and treatment of sick prisoners, and there shall be a staff of suitable trained officers.

- The services of a qualified dental officer shall be available to every prisoner.

- In women's institutions there shall be special accommodation for all necessary pre-natal and post-natal care and treatment. Arrangements shall be made wherever practicable for children to be torn in a hospital outside the institution. If a child is born in prison, this fact shall not be mentioned in the birth certificate.

- Where nursing infants are allowed to remain in the institution with their mothers, provision shall be made for a nursery staffed by qualified persons, where the infants shall be placed when they are not in the care of their mothers.

- The medical officer shall see and examine every prisoner as soon as possible after his admission and thereafter as necessary, with a view particularly to the discovery of physical or mental illness and the taking of all necessary measures; the segregation of prisoners suspected of infectious or contagious conditions; the noting of physical or mental defects which might hamper rehabilitation, and the determination of the physical capacity of every prisoner for work.

- The medical officer shall have the care of the physical and mental health of the prisoners and should daily see all sick prisoners, all who complain of illness, and any prisoner to whom his attention is specially directed.