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YEMEN: BUSH ALLY ATTACKS RIGHTS

Brett Prowse As the first day of the European Union-sponsored Arab Regional Conference on Human Rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court got underway here on January 10, Yemeni activists outside were being intimidated and arrested by heavily armed police and soldiers, whose presence blanketed the city. A group of activists peacefully protesting human rights abuses by the US government at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba were labelled terrorists and arrested. Members of the media and public in the vicinity were also intimidated and detained. Among the activists was the mother of Mohammad Ali Al'a Sadi. Her son has been held prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, without charge or legal representation, for more than two years. She held high a portrait of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, appealing to him to utilise his close ties with the US administration of President George Bush to bring attention to her son's plight. Many prominent non-government, political and human rights organisations were excluded from the conference. A last-minute decision by the Yemeni government also resulted in most of the invited Yemeni and international press being excluded from the conference. This is consistent with recent attempts in Yemen to control the media, smaller opposition political parties and student organisations. A new law seeks to restrict freedom of speech in Yemen, facilitating tight control over the media by the government. The law seeks to make membership of Yemen's Journalists' Syndicate trade union compulsory for the country's media workers, but also allows the government to take control of the union and its membership. Since the 1994 war, which unified North Yemen and South Yemen, Saleh's regime has imprisoned many members of the Yemeni Socialist Party on politically motivated charges. The party is vilified in the re-written school curriculum, which paints it as a destructive and anti-Islamic organisation. The General Union of Yemen Students has also come under government attack. In mid-December, as students entered a university hall for the union's national conference, state security forces opened fire. The government had refused to grant the union a permit to hold elections. Nine students were arrested; they were cleared of all charges after spending more than two weeks in custody. On January 1, hundreds of students protested, calling for an end to “interference by security forces in student affairs”. Yemen's neoliberal version of “multi-party democracy” certifies Yemen as “business-ready” to the Western world, yet brings little to the people of Yemen in the way of human rights or justice.





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