Gender Newsroom Content

Female Prisoners in Yemen

Female Prisoners in Yemen.. Mass Graves Under the Weight of Societal Shame

 Asma Albazaz

“Who will accept me?” With this bitter question, the prisoner, M.M. 22-year-old spoke to us and added: “I was accused in a fraud case, which ended my present and my future as soon as I set foot in the prison yard. I no longer own, even the name of my family, who disavowed me and abandoned me under the pretext that I became a disgrace and scandal, and when my sentence ends, where will I go?! Who will accept a former prisoner to live with?! The torment and cruelty of prison is far more merciful than leaving it and what I will face.”
She continued telling her story: “I always cry, as no husband has remained faithful to his covenant and loyalty, after I had to do what I did to support him and help him to face life’s difficulties and relieve his debts. After I was arrested, he was the first to abandon me, and he did not ask me even one question, but deprived me of my son, and told him that I had died in a traffic accident and announced his divorce to me, and it was only a few months before he married someone else.”
She concluded her speech with intermittent words: “Do you believe that I have not yet understood that I am still young, and all this has happened to me? Until now, I have illusions and doubts that I am in a long dream or nightmare, waiting to wake up from it at any moment, and I am afraid that I will only wake up in my death!”
Community Execution
S. Y. 33-year-old, was accused of killing her husband, and she says: “I did not mean to kill him, he is my husband and my children’s father. We had a small argument over personal matters. He hit me, so I pushed him back and hit his head on an iron pillar in the corner of the house. He had an internal bleeding in his head and died instantly.” She says: “After that, I was accused of killing my husband and I was sentenced to death. Imprisonment, execution, or even innocence no longer make any difference to me. Life after my husband’s departure is unbearable, not to mention the talks of people which hurt me. Rather, they fabricate great accusations against me that I got rid of him in order to hide my sins and scandals, as those closest to me accuse me, and that is why I divorced the world, satisfied with what God will choose for me.”
I Tried to Commit Suicide
M.A., one of the former prisoners, explained: “My sentence has ended, and with great difficulty my brother came to pick me up. His face blackened, and he was dealing with me with all violence, barbarism and profanity all the time. I went home with him, waiting for even one word to calm my mind and ease my pain and the years I suffered behind bars for the theft of which I am innocent, and everyone knows that. I wished to die a thousand times a day and not put myself in that situation in front of my brothers, my mother and sisters in law, as if I were a sin. Their looks, movements, comments, as if I had committed an unforgivable crime and had it not been for the modesty of God, they would have killed me!” She added, “What made the matter worse was the death of my father, who was greatly affected by my detention and the ruthless words of people. It was only weeks before he suffered a severe stroke that cost him his life, and this doubled my suffering, especially when they accused me of being the cause of his death.”
M. A. continued her story: “In just a month since my release from prison, I have experienced various types of torture, beatings, deprivation and suffering, and how painful their words they repeat like (what do you expect from a former prisoner ?!). That phrase divided me in half, until they reached the point of chaining me for fear that I would leave the house and shame them. My psychological condition worsened, I refused food and drink, and my health condition deteriorated until I fainted, and then I was transferred to a hospital, and I sat for two days under medical supervision. ”
M. A. said that she did not find a solution that fit her situation but to escape from her reality, and in fact she ran away and resorted to theft to live, and then surrendered herself to the police, for prison is more beloved to her than what her family did!!
We tried to meet with the prisoners’ families, but they declared their repudiation of them, and some said: “We don’t know anyone by that name!”
376 Female Prisoners
According to official statistics, as of March 2020, there are 376 female prisoners in all Yemeni governorates. Of whom 57 have completed their legal periods, but they are still in detention. 17 female prisoners in the areas under the control of the so-called legitimate government, and about 40 female prisoners in the areas under the control of the Ansar Allah government (Houthis).
Yemeni Law and Female Prisoners
“The Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law does not include a provision for depriving a woman of her freedom after the end of the legal period of detention, nor does it include any reference to the necessity of having a female prisoner’s guardian as a condition for her release. Rather, the text of the law criminalizes the detention of the prisoner after the end of his sentence. The Yemeni constitution also stipulates that “the state guarantees citizens their personal freedom, and preserves their dignity and security.” This is how the human rights defender and lawyer Hamid Al-Hujaili began his speech, adding: The law determines the cases in which the freedom of the citizen is restricted, and no one’s freedom may be restricted except by a ruling from a competent court.
It shows that the continued detention of female prisoners, on the pretext that the parents are not present or that there are no guarantees, is considered gender-based violence, because the man is released without conditions or restrictions, while the conditions are placed on the imprisoned women only. This is a dilemma, unfortunately, that we face because of the closed society, and this in theory, is contrary to Yemeni law.
He clarifies that the continued detention of female prisoners, after the expiry of the period specified by the court or the prosecution, is a violation of human rights conventions and charters, and the rights of female prisoners guaranteed by the constitution and Yemeni law. It was assumed by those who enacted the law, bearing in mind that there is not the slightest indication of equality in Yemeni society, so they should have dealt with female prisoners, and not made this article of the law general.
Al-Hujaili said: “The rights of women guaranteed by the constitution and various laws, the most important of which are the right to dignity and humane treatment, the right to education, the right to work, the right to health care, the right to communicate with the outside world, the right to social care. In addition, Yemeni legislation singled out imprisoned women with some legal texts that guarantee them special treatment in some matters related to punitive execution, given the nature of their organic, psychological and social composition, as well as those contained in the minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, and their impact on reforming and rehabilitating imprisoned women.
He pointed out that Yemeni punitive legislation, although it includes modern and many humane methods for treating imprisoned women with the aim of reforming and rehabilitating them Many of them are not applied in practice, and it did not explicitly state that these methods are originally rights guaranteed by the constitution for women. In addition to that, Yemeni legislation is accompanied by many shortcomings and defects, especially with regard to the rights of imprisoned women, which negatively affects the guarantee of their rights and the process of reforming and rehabilitating them.
Prisoner Mothers
For her part, Akhlaq Al-Shami, head of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood in Sana’a, explained that the council is making great efforts in its work with the imprisoned mother in various prisons, adding: “We, in the council, work on children accompanying their mothers in prisons, a child is born inside prison, and lives in it. Therefore, we work to raise his awareness, immunize him, and raise him. That is because he lives in an absolutely abnormal environment, and he acquires many behaviors from it.”
Psychological and Social Repercussions
Many psychological and social repercussions for the imprisoned woman are explained by Dr. Abdo Mohsen Al-Shelili, a specialist in psychiatric and community diseases. He says: “Man, by nature, loves freedom, and the confinement of his freedom in a legal or illegal way creates severe suffering for him, so what about when the prisoner is a woman?” He added: “A woman, by the nature of her constitution, is very sensitive and feels humiliation and fear when she is imprisoned, even if it is legal and as a result of a court ruling, for example. She feels anxious and tense, and is accompanied by physical symptoms such as stomach, heart and colon pain, which affects her shape, and sometimes hair loss occurs and her skin color changes, which affects her psyche.”
Disgrace and Shame
Al-Shelili continued: “The societal effects on the imprisoned woman are very heavy, given the minor and miserable look of the prisoner, because she committed a crime and time will not erase it, so she cannot marry if she is single, and if she is married, the separation pursues her along with the shame that befalls her family. These are natural dimensions as a result of the composition of Yemeni society in particular and Arab society in general,” and he indicated that, on the other hand, it comes within the framework of preserving women and fearing for them and their reputation, and this is a good thing, in order to be a deterrent for women and to ensure that they do not fall into error, so that they account for the psychological and societal dimensions that will pursue them account. Al-Shelili also indicated that there are cases that may be wronged or because of an unintended mistake, so that looking at prison does not become a normal thing, but because the man is more tolerant and the societal view is in his favor, the effects are really difficult for women.
Regarding solutions, Al-Shelili mentions that they are cumulative and intertwined between the judicial aspect of a good investigation when a prisoner is deposited and taking into account the effects that will be inflicted on it in the sense of being careful and not rushing and trying to make peace, educational or awareness-raising guidance for women. Secondly comes the treatment that the female prisoner receives. It must be specific from the point of view of the guards, the activities, visits and trial, and to instill a spirit of reassurance for the female prisoner; because she is in a period of guidance and will be released. The stage of a balanced media role that preserves the privacy of women, and here comes the important role of the family, which enhances the prisoner’s self-confidence, away from intimidation, calibration, distortion and the damage that she suffers.
At the conclusion of his speech, Al-Shelili said: “The prisoner is a human being who makes mistakes and gets hurt, and the prison period is a discipline and guidance. The society must accept the imprisoned woman in the fields of work and study and help her, so that she can return to her life naturally after her release, and it will be a lesson for her not to repeat and to be a good woman for herself and her community.”
Violations and Awareness
From a societal point of view, there are many repercussions related to the structure of society, its customs and traditions, and its view of women who must be bound by those customs, and error or deviation is not accepted from her, which is not a mistake that time will correct, but rather a crime that may end her life.
Between the recent past and the renewed present of the reality of female prisoners, social and cultural activist Raja Al-Moayad reports: “We used to hear about the reality of female prisoners through researchers who used to visit female prisoners in previous decades, and we did not hear stories about female prisoners inside the prison and the poor condition they were in, as well as the view of society. For female prisoners, the prison had categorized female prisoners as imprisoned because of moral issues only, and those who entered the prison as if they had been trampled alive. Some prisoners were like forgotten ones where there is no way out. I was not one of those who touched that reality. Rather, it is the talk of female psychology and sociology students who used to visit the prison to discuss issues related to female prisoners. One of the problems is that some female prisoners were forgotten because they no longer had any of their families who wanted to get them out of prison, contrary to what is made with male prisoners. So, you see his family seeking to visit him, take him out, paying the ransom for him, and finding a lawyer to defend him.
Al-Moayad indicated that if the imprisoned woman is imprisoned while she is pregnant, she gives birth to her child and lives with her in prison without guilt or crime. In addition, there is the lack of attention to the health of the prisoners, lack of rehabilitation of the female prisoners, whether religiously, culturally or professionally, to rely on herself after leaving prison. This is what I heard about the conditions of female prisoners in the past, although the previous regime signed treaties and agreements on the issue of improving the treatment and conditions of prisoners in general and female prisoners in particular.
Al-Moayyad explained that at the present time the name of the prison has changed to a reformatory. By changing the name, we know the goal of establishing these reforms, which is the reform of female prisoners, and they targeted female prisoners culturally, and they began to educate them and transfer qualifications and cultures to the prison service. To rehabilitate and educate female workers and female prisoners, they began to take care of training, rehabilitating and teaching them skills, works and handicrafts, so that the female prisoner, after her release and the expiry of her sentence, could rely on herself and earn her livelihood from an honorable source.
Al-Moayad notes the necessity of utilizing them as labor for projects, whether small or independent, or in projects, institutions, government factories, private companies and factories that should be established to revive the economic aspect of the country. Some female prisoners continued their education and obtained qualifications, and this is what is hoped by the regime to seek to serve the citizen, protect him and prevent him from falling into crime by spreading the culture of the Qur’an and piety of God. This is what really happened through my participation personally to go down and give a lecture to the employees of the prison.
Al-Moayad stresses the importance of separating female prisoners according to the types of crimes, as fraud and financial crimes and felony prisoners are not like prisoners of moral offenses. We also hear about the imprisonment of insane women, who should have special health centers to treat them and protect the other prisoners of or protect them from being used.
Al-Moayad touched on the importance of educating the community that the imprisoned woman is like the imprisoned man, who must be dealt with with pardon and forgiveness, and they must be helped to repent and return to God and give up guilt or crime. This can only be done by accepting her in the environment of her family and dealing with her respectfully. We should not deal with her like she’s guilty, and they must be urged to repent and purify and give them hope for pardon and forgiveness from God and that the situation does not lead them to despair of God’s mercy because He is the Forgiving and Merciful. Their goal and purpose should be to please God.
Accommodation Centers:
Al-Moayad calls on the state to help local organizations and benefactors to build shelters for those who have completed their sentences to resort to, so that the prisoner can rely on herself with continuous follow-up. The judiciary should also be directed to decide cases and judgments and not to prolong them, so that the offender bears the punishment more than he deserves of the prescribed punishment. She indicates that this is one of the most important issues that require rapid and immediate intervention for treatment.


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