“We live in fear day and night worrying whether he is still breathing or not.” Inhumane management of COVID-19 in Central Prison in Sana’a

“We live in fear day and night worrying whether he is still breathing or not.” Inhumane management of COVID-19 in Central Prison in Sana’a

Paris – The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH) and the Abductees’ Mothers Association urgently calls for the release of abductees held in the Central Security Prison in Sana’a, Yemen due to COVID-19 likely spreading inside.

The Abductees’ Mothers Association first suspected the novel coronavirus was circulating inside the prison on 25 May, 2020, this was later confirmed on 1 June, 2020. Muhammad Wassel, a 54-year-old male abductee is currently in critical condition and requires a ventilator to breathe. His family who are unable to visit him told AFDH that for the last two years they have been waiting for the release of their son and today they fear for his life after discovering that he had contracted coronavirus. “He is suffering alone in prison, fighting for his life while we suffer outside and fear for the worst. We live in fear day and night worrying whether he is still breathing or not.” The family have reportedly reached out for help locally but have not received any response to their demands. “His life and safety mean everything to us. We appeal to everyone to work securing his release. We need all the support we can get to help save our son’s life” his family said.

Although Wassel is believed to be in ‘quarantine,’ the Central Security Prison has only provided four cells for quarantine and allocated two people per cell when only one person should be occupying each. Furthermore, medical care for quarantined abductees is only the bare minimum, even hand sanitizers are not provided by prison guards but by families of those detained. One told his family that prison guards were using abductees’ hand sanitizers. Two groups, many of whom are sick, have been transferred from the Central Security Prison to unknown prisons, further exposing them to the threat of COVID-19 and other perils. Since their transfer, there has been no news of their whereabouts.

Abducting parties do not provide the appropriate medical care that should be legally granted to abductees by international and national human rights law. The Abductees’ Mothers Association has monitored the situation inside prisons regarding medical care and found that those detained are left to struggle with various diseases in unofficial prisons where no infrastructure like infirmaries with the necessary medical supplies are available. With only one person as the medical staff and usually poorly qualified to face emergencies or pandemics such as COVID-19, their only job is to diagnose and prescribe medicine without dispensing it. Furthermore, families can never access medical reports and prison administrations refuse to send abductees and detainees to hospitals unless their health has deteriorated severely. The Abductees’ Mothers Association have documented 14 deaths due to medical care prevention in Houthi prisons and other figures have shown that 107 abducted sick civilians are being held by the Houthi armed group and a further 12 being held by the government. In a statement to AFDH the Abductees’ Mothers Association said, “Both parties show no regard to the lives and safety of abductees and never abide by the laws of prison administration.”

Coronavirus to date (Wednesday 10 June, 2020) has infected 7,342,555 and killed 414,124 globally. In Yemen, 524 people have been infected with 127 deaths. These figures are likely to be much higher due to the country’s poor public health and testing system. Yemen also has one of the lowest testing rates per capita: 4 out 1 million. Yemen has a population of 29.7 million.

The Abductees’ Mothers Association works on behalf of the mothers, wives and female relatives of abductees and other forcibly disappeared detainees and have been monitoring their enforced disappearance and arbitrary arrest and detention as well as the conditions around their imprisonment. Detained by armed groups and other organizations such as military and security organizations in Aden, the Houthi armed group and the internationally recognized government of Yemen, abductees are subjected to unlawful arrest and imprisonment, held without charge and are detained based on various political beliefs and other affiliations.

Abducted from their homes, place of work or randomly in the street, armed groups detain civilians without any legal warrants and confiscate their documents, loot their properties, assault family members and in some cases murder them. The Abductees’ Mothers Association has documented 244 Houthi official and unofficial prisons, 137 of which are secret detention centres. For long stretches of time, detainees are forcibly disappeared ranging anywhere between two weeks to six months. For some abductees held in the northern parts of Yemen which are heavily occupied by various military and security organizations, they have been forcibly disappeared for as long as four years. During this time they are subjected to systematic torture which has led to the deaths of at least 71 civilians. Moreover, abductees are not given a just trial or even one at all. Out of 1778, only 57 stood in front of a judge where 47 of whom were sentenced to death.

The inhumane living conditions in many detention centres and prisons poses a serious risk to abductees’ health both physically and mentally. Many cells are so small that cell mates are forced to live in such close proximity that they breathe on each other’s faces. Other victims are held in a 3×3 meter cell with no toilet and detainees are confined to their cells without access to daylight or time outside in the prison yard. With COVID-19 inside the Central Security Prison, the risk of the virus spreading is indisputable.

Bad ventilation, no air conditioning in summer or heating in winter makes living conditions unbearable and the only food served is half-cooked rice and boiled potatoes. Families are forbidden from providing any food that provides any sustenance like fruit and vegetables.

Along with the brutal living standards, there is also systematic physical and psychological torture conducted by the Houthi armed group, military and security organizations, the government and other abducting parties. Varying in degrees of brutality, they perform acts of physical and psychological torture to force abductees and detainees to make confessions under duress and sign blank pieces of paper which are later filled in by interrogators.

Other forms of torture include sexual assault, harassment, brutal beatings, electrocution, de-nailing, scorching, starving and sleep prevention, prevention from daylight and using toilets. This repeated torture and mistreatment have resulted in profound damages psychologically and mentally including 8 cases of paralysis, 7 cases of strokes, 3 cases of impaired vision, 7 cases of damaged renal functions and 3 cases of impaired hearing caused by torture in Houthi armed prisons. The Abductees’ Mothers Association has also documented 20 cases of mental and psychological disorders due to the trauma of their imprisonment.

The Abductees’ Mothers Association and AFDH demand for the following:

  1. Warring parties have signed the Stockholm Agreement, which compels all parties to release all abductees, detainees, and forcibly disappeared persons. The international community should pressure the warring parties to implement the agreement in light of the COVID-19 outbreak as it is likely that the lack of focus on the pandemic is causing serious consequences in a country lacking the proper medical infrastructure to face such a pandemic.
  2. Unconditionally release all abductees and detainees to spend lock down at their homes with the capacity to practice social distancing.
  3. Extend our call to all human rights activists and organizations around the world in order to organize pressure groups to support and save the victims.
  4. Provide proper medical care, supervised by specialized international organizations capable of fighting epidemics and pandemics for abductees and detainees.

Since 2016, the association has monitored 2480 abductees held by the Houthi armed group. Working tirelessly with many international supporters, mediators and judicial authorities to help release those wrongfully abducted by these armed groups, 936 civilians have been released.

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