Webinar : Book Launch: “Prison Time in Sana’a”
Monday 29 November 2021 / WCYS .
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The Washington Center for Yemeni Studies, Tuesday NOV 23 2021, hosted a book launch and webinar discussion on 'Prison Time in Sana'a' via zoom. The honorable guest speakers are Dr. Abdulkader Al Guneid, the Author, and His Excellency Ahmed Arman: Minister of Legal Affairs and Human Rights in Yemen.
Dr. Abdulkader Al-Guneid is a doctor and human rights activist from Taiz, Yemen. He has featured on international news outlets such as the BBC, Al Arabiya, Hufﬁngton Post, Al Jazeera, The Independent, and The Financial Times, and is a prominent voice on Twitter. 'Prison Time in Sana'a' tells the story of Dr. Abdulkader Al-Guneid's harrowing experience inside a jail in Yemen's capital shortly after its take over by Houthi rebels. For 300 days, Al-Guneid shared his time with American hostages, Houthi ﬁghters, Al Qaeda militants, and ordinary Yemenis caught up in the chaos of war. Following his release, he wrote about his experience in exhaustive and gripping detail from exile in Canada. Initially typing his entire account on his mobile phone, his story has since distilled into a profoundly personal account of his incarceration, offering an extraordinarily candid perspective on the Yemen crisis from deep within Houthi-held territory.
"They violated my country, they violated my city, they violated my house, they stole my belongings!" Dr. Al-Guneid described the first few hours of his abduction since the Houthi fighters showed up at his doorstep. In his hometown of Taiz, Al-Guneid, a medical doctor, had been an outspoken ﬁgure on Yemeni politics for decades. In recent years, his social media and interviews were read around the world and attracted a global following from an audience anxious to hear an unbiased explanation of the underlying roots of the conﬂict. Ultimately, his activism placed him in the movement's crosshairs, leading to his abduction on 5 August 2015 and incarceration in an undisclosed Houthi jail in Sana'a. "They took me because I was telling the world what they did to my country, my city, and people like me...They wanted to make an example of me for whoever wants to protest, they don't like protests or opposition, and they wanted to shut me up because I was telling the world..."
Blindfolded during the interrogations, Dr. Al-Guneid had to sign interrogation transcripts that he could not see or review. He was held in small and dark cells with less than the bare minimum. He also was subjected to forced disappearance. His Houthi captors denied him the right to communicate with his family and the outside world for that matter, they had no information about his condition and whereabouts, and he had no idea what happened to them after his abduction. Dr. Al-Guneid acted as a doctor for the detainees and was taken on rounds to visit everyone and help them with their ailments. Until suddenly, the Houthis became more affluent and hired their doctors to care for the prisoners.
AL-Guneid moved around 15 cells, with different prisoners in each cell., from diverse regions with complex individual political and social stories from regions with geopolitical significance in the story of Yemen. So he told their stories as well, and by doing that, he told the story of Yemen simply and charmingly. He told his story in an entertaining and informative way so that the reader relishes the book. 'Prison Time in Sana'a' is not the story of Yemen only; it is the story of humanity when subjected to oppression and injustice anywhere in the world; it is about the relationship between the tormented and the tormentors and the harm they inflict on the human psyche.
HE Ahmed Arman, Minister of Legal Affairs and Human Rights in Yemen, praised Al-Guneid's courage and bravery in telling his story because prisoners have refused to discuss their experience in Houthi prisons when released. Arman stated that from 2015 until June of 2021, more than 22,000 Yemenis, at least, were imprisoned or kidnapped by Houthis, and 167 prisoners have died in Houthi prisons so far. More than 27,000 Yemenis lost their lives as victims of human rights violations, of which more than 1,000 were a direct result of torture. In the same time frame, 1,407 civilians in Maarib have lost their lives to Houthi bombardment and attacks on the city, more than 1,535 children, and 666 women. Approximately 37,563 were wounded, including more than 5,000 children and 2,000 women in several war-torn regions in Yemen. The data is not a comprehensive representation of reality. In addition to that, minefields have wounded more than 1,800 civilians and killed about 800. Not to mention the 4,500 children forcefully recruited as child soldiers since the beginning of 2021.
Arman stressed that the difficulty of finding information about Yemenis kidnapped and imprisoned in Houthi territories. Houthis have detained at least 400 women in Sana'a's prison; in the past, that number never exceeded 60. In addition to the confirmed and documented cases of extreme torture and rape. Arman emphasized that the methods of torture utilized by the Houthi rebels had never been seen in Yemen before their take over. He said that even the purpose of torturing detainees had taken a turn since 2014, torture is not only used for extracting information anymore but a tool to oppress the opposition, public figures, and activists who speak out against them. The Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights is compiling A full report documenting the human rights violation cases inflicted by the Houthi rebels in Yemen to be released by the beginning of 2022.
Arman elaborated on the prisoner exchange process and the exchanges made so far. However, he emphasized the difference between the prisoners in those exchanges. The Houthi prisoners were fighters exchanged by the government for civilians who were never prisoners of war. The process is complicated, and despite the intentions for the exchange, the Houthis do not acknowledge more than 50% of the prisoners they keep. Arman believed that the human rights situation in Yemen before 2014 was not ideal; nevertheless, it took a sharp turn to the worst after 2014. Since the conflict mainly takes place in central government regions, it destroyed critical infrastructure and government facilities. The destruction devastated the system and posed significant hurdles for the government in regulating and enforcing the rule of law. The instability further weakens and limits the government's functions. Yet, they continue to work diligently to rebuild and collaborate with local organizations and agencies to document violations and offer as much help as possible.
When asked about referring the crimes to the International Court and the UN Security Council, Arman iterated that this process does not begin until the war ends to guarantee a just and transparent investigation. In the meantime, the government, and local and international organizations, continue to document the human rights violations to hold the perpetrators and their benefactors accountable for their war crimes in the future. Arman further considers the book 'Prison Time in Sana'a' as an essential account that documents the human rights violations in Houthi prisons.
Arman declared that the international community has failed to act against the human rights violations committed by the Houthis, and its role remains weak and limited due to multiple factors. He considered that researchers and workers in international organizations view Yemen from their perspective, which could be gravely biased and unjust to Yemenis. He suggested that the ignorance of the international community to the violations of the Houthi has encouraged them to continue doing so. For example, some international organizations in Yemen fail to report infringements committed against them in fear of losing their projects or their jobs altogether. In addition, many international workers are denied access to Houthi territory for various reasons, limiting access to information. He urged the international community to take serious steps to restrain the Houthis from continuously targeting civilians.
In closing, Al-Guneid urged his fellow Yemeni diaspora in the United States to use their power as constituents to bring change upon Yemen, and Arman seconded that sentiment. Al-Guneid aspires for the book to be a valuable tool in the process. The number one truth he wants to resonate with the readers is that there are 40 million people in Yemen of diverse backgrounds, and currently, one group is trying to take over. Two: no one should use force, money, arms, support, and training from foreign countries. Three: armaments should be exclusive to security and the army, which should not be involved in politics and only protect the constitution. Al-Guneid concluded, if Yemen follows this method, it will bring Yemen back together. He iterated that Yemen should not be fragmented because it will create more instability, and to achieve stability, Yemen must be unified and enforce the rule of law.