Ghada Eldemellawy

Riot in Sana'a Central Prison

on 16 March 2011


The Middle East domino effect reached Yemen in late January this year when the Yemeni people took to the streets of the capital Sana'a and demanded an end of a decades-long totalitarian regime. With the uprising escalating, Reprieve client Sharif Mobley watched similar unrest unfold within Sana'a Central Prison.

Reporting from within the robust walls of the interment facility - an enormous and imposing building that had me awestruck the first time I visted - Sharif spoke of how on March 7th, around Maghreb prayer time, the prisoners stood in solidarity with their free fellow comrades. They flocked to the main prison arena and congregated there. They refused to go back to their cells unless the dictator stepped down. By the prisoners’ account, the authorities responded violently. Although Sharif had no part in the prison uprising, he did his part in conveying the prisoners’ message to the rest of the world through speaking to Al Jazeera. The prisoners wanted their suppressed voices to be heard—indeed, may well have feared reprisals without the light of public scrutiny on the authorities.

Upon receiving the news, Reprieve immediately wrote to the US Embassy in Sana’a requesting protection for our client. The embassy states it has phone calls to confirm the situation but, thus far, has sent no one to the prison in person to assess the situation or make representations on behalf of its citizen. Mobley’s is one story unfolding of many, to be sure—but it would be a tragedy if he were to become collateral damage of the unrest in Yemen when he and his family had tried to leave the country peaceably, together, in January of last year.

It is surely too soon to tell what the outcome of the latest events in Yemen will be. Whether or not Sharif’s next hearing on March 20th will take place is also unclear. What is clear, however, is that time tends to reveal truth. One hopes, at some point hence, the real facts behind Sharif's kidnap and the exact role the US government plays in counterterrorism operations in Yemen will finally come to light.

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