[The following press release was issued by the Alkarama Foundation on 21 February 2014]
Mohammad Muthana Al Ammari, a 34 year-old Yemeni teacher who had participated, like so many others, in the demonstrations that toppled former Yemeni president Saleh, was abducted from the street in Sana`a on 5 December 2011 by a dozen armed men. After being disappeared and tortured, he was sentenced on 19 October 2012 to two years in prison by a special courtfor political motives after a grossly unfair trial. It has been three years since the Yemeni revolution. And it has been two years that Mohammad has been unlawfully detained in Sana`a`s political prison despite having completed his sentence. Today, Alkarama sent his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to seek their intervention with the Yemeni authorities on his behalf.
Demonstrators, and Loyalists` Immunity
After the beginning of protests against President Ali Abdallah Saleh`s 33-year rule in January 2011, Yemeni security forces detained hundreds of demonstrators and other people perceived as opponents to his regime. Despite this repression, President Saleh was forced to transfer power to a transition government as a consequence of months of continued protests. The transitional government was led by current President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in the aftermath of a transition agreement signed on 23 November 2011 in Riyadh. While Saleh agreed to resign as president, an immunity law enacted by the Yemeni parliament on 21 January 2012 granted amnesty to him and immunity for "political" crimes committed by all those who had served with him during his rule.
In January 2012, Yemen`s caretaker cabinet and a committee responsible for restructuring the military, headed by Hadi who was elected president on 21 February 2012, ordered the release of all those detained arbitrarily as a gesture of goodwill. However, security and intelligence units, notably the Republican Guard, Political Security and National Security, run by Saleh`s relatives and loyalists, continued to operate largely outside of central government control, undertaking arrests outside the scope of the law.
It is in this context that Mr Al Ammari was forcedly disappeared in December 2011 by Political Security agents, and remains detained today. Prior to his detention, he had been active in Change Square during the early days of the 2011 revolution. In response to his activism, he began receiving threats from Political Security agents, who held him for a half-day in March 2011 and warned him to stay away from the protests or otherwise risk harm to himself and his family.
Arrested by Armed Men
Around 12pm on 5 December 2011, a dozen of armed men surrounded Mr Al Ammari in the street as he left his father-in-law`s house, located on the main street next to the Political Security building, with his wife and his young son. Mr Al Ammari was placed in a silver sport utility vehicle, carrying private plates, and driven into the Political Security parking lot. The entire incident was witnessed by his wife, his son and his father-in-law.
Mr Al Ammari`s wife, Ahlan Al Ariqi, went to Political Security headquarters the next morning to ask about her husband`s whereabouts, but officials there denied detaining him. However, on 15 December 2011, pro-government newspaper Al-Thawra ran a front-page article with the headline "Six Terrorists from al-Qaeda arrested" featuring photos of the six men, which included Mr Al Ammari. The newspaper quoted a government source who described them as dangerous armed militants captured by the authorities. Despite this, Political Security officials continued to deny detaining Mr Al Ammari for weeks. They exerted psychological pressure on his wife, telling her that they would soon provide her with information and the next day that she should not bother waiting to receive any information.
Finally, on 11 February 2012, an official from Political Security informed her that they were detaining Mr Al Ammari, and that they would call her when she was authorised to see him. She was denied this right even after President Hadi`s election on 23 February 2012 and was only able to see her husband in June 2012, six months after Mr Al Ammari`s arrest.
Torture in detention
While detained at the Political Security detention center, Mr Al Ammari told Alkarama, he was tortured during the first few months of his detention. He was hung by the feet for hours several times, beaten with sticks, and he was denied visits from the date of his arrest until 6 June 2012, when his wife was finally allowed to see him for the first time.
Mr Al Ammari was not brought before any competent judicial authority until his trial in October 2012 as he was disappeared and detained incommunicado by the Political Security for the entire duration of his detention. As a consequence, Mr Al Ammari`s lawyer filed a complaint with the General Prosecution in June 2012 asking that binding orders be issued to Political Security to ensure his client be presented to court, as the delay in presenting him was prolonging legal proceedings and was harming his client who had already been detained for months without knowing the reasons for his detention. The lawyer also called for Mr Al Ammari to be moved from the Political Security detention center to the Central Prison, request which was denied by Political Security.
Following this complaint, Mr Al Ammari was referred to the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana`a by the General Prosecution at the beginning of September 2012 on charges of belonging to al-Qaeda and "participation in an armed gang in order to carry out a military attack against governmental installations, security interests of the State and foreign institutions" at the beginning of September 2012. However, Political Security refused the directives of the General Prosecution to allow him to appear at the court hearing until 19 October 2012, invoking security reasons.
Mr Al Ammari was finally presented to the Court and sentenced to two years in prison on 19 October 2012, following a trial marred with irregularities, and during which no single piece of material evidence was provided to the judge by the accusation. The verdict specified that the sentence began from the first day of Mr Al Ammari`s arrest on 5 December 2011, and that he should therefore be released on 5 December 2013.
The continued incommunicado detention of Mr Al Ammari for six months, the absence of material evidence presented by the accusation at his trial, the ill-treatment he was subjected to during his pre-trial detention, the lack of presumption of innocence, and the interference of Political Security in the judicial process clearly demonstrate that the Yemeni authorities failed to provide the victim with basic guarantees for a fair trial.
Appeal and Ongoing Detention
Mr Al Ammari`s lawyer appealed the sentence at the Specialized Criminal Court. He asked for the verdict to be reversed, as the sentence "violated the general principles of evidence, given the lack of forensic and legal evidence to prove the truth of what happened". The Appeal Court, which agreed to receive the appeal, refused to re-examine the content of the appeal, arguing that the matter was "subject to the discretion and authority of the first judge, who is himself under the control of God and his conscience". The Appeal Judge consequently upheld the first sentence of two years imprisonment for Mr Al Ammari. Mr Al Ammari subsequently served out his sentence in the Political Security`s detention centre.
While Mr Al Ammari was scheduled to be released on 5 December 2013 after having served his sentence, he remains detained in the Political Security detention centre until now, and has no idea when Political Security will release him.
It is very likely that the exercise of his internationally recognized right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression is the cause of his current detention by Political Security. Mr Al Ammari`s imprisonment is not an isolated case, as dozens of demonstrators were held by security forces under the same circumstances for days, weeks, or months without charge during the transition period. Mr Al Ammari`s current detention therefore seems to be an act of revenge by former President Saleh loyalists who are still seeking to punish people who protested against his rule. These loyalists have benefited from the unstable transitional period and the immunity agreement that had just been signed at the time to detain people who had stood up against the former regime.
As no legal basis can justify the teacher`s current detention, the Yemeni authorities should immediately put an end to it by releasing him at once and provide him with adequate compensation for all the abuses he has been subjected to since his arrest.