To no avail, but without relinquishment, Hassan Salem has been waiting 10 years to hear his name called through the loudspeakers installed in the corridors of Al-Hudaydah’s central prison. Salem became anxiously addicted to waiting by a small window, fenced with faded iron bars, for the list of people being referred to court.
This investigation shows how hundreds of Yemenis accused of various misdemeanours and crimes, share Salem’s fate because of the delayed legal procedures and the absence of legislation that sets deadlines for litigation periods and procedures. The judiciary and the prison administration exchange accusations of responsibility for the suffering of those who are waiting. According to the investigator who has interviewed various prisoners, some of whom have been incarcerated for 10 years in inhumane conditions pending decisions on their cases, the Ministry of Justice and its investigative and judicial bodies are unable to solve this chronic and nationwide problem.
In 2009, at 32 years old, Salem was imprisoned for a "breach of trust" of items consisting of a Yemeni dagger and cash, valued by the court at 3 million Yemeni rials ($5,000). A year later, the South Hudaydah court (226 km west of the capital) sentenced him to one year in prison, and returned the items to his brother.
Salem filed an appeal on June 20, 2010, through the prison’s prosecution body (which is part of wider Public Prosecution), who forwarded his case to the chief prosecutor. However, the latter did not take any action to this effect, which prompted the prison’s prosecution body to submit a second memo on May 4, 2013, followed by a third memo five years later on March 25, 2018.
Thus, Salem, who was unable to pay back the value of the property, has been in prison for 10 years pending the appeal of a one-year ruling, despite submitting three memos to overturn the court’s initial ruling.
The last announced statistic dates back to 2016, one year after the outbreak of the Yemeni war, which changed the systems of administration and control in most of the country’s provinces. No data could be obtained from the remaining eight governorates - which are under the control of the internationally-recognised government.
With this, Yahya Ibrahim, 65, explains his condition in the central prison in Al-Hudaydah. Ibrahim was arrested on May 23, 2015 with his two sons, Hazem, 19, and Hussein, 21, on charges of premeditated murder, according to official documents issued by the prison.
Initially, the father and his two sons spent a year in the Bayt Al-Faqih Directorate prison, located in Al- Hudaydah, before being transferred to the central prison for four years, leaving behind his wife and five daughters (the oldest of which is 14 years old and the youngest of which is 7 years old). In April 2019, the three defendants were sent back to the Bayt Al-Faqih to resume their court case.
Four years passed without the court holding one session due to the absence of a judge, according to the prison administration.
Next to Hassan Salem resides Abdo Al-Dabibi, who had to wait six years before four judges evaluated his file and sentenced him in 2019. The 37-year-old was summoned to court once every three months, before being informed that the session could not be held either because of the absence of the judge or a Public Prosecution representative.
The Criminal Procedure Law of 1994 stipulates that "the representative of the Public Prosecution must attend court hearings in all criminal cases (...) and the court must hear their statements and decide based on their requests."
Any judicial action in the absence of a representative of the Public Prosecution shall be null and void, according to the second paragraph of the same law. Musleh Al-Badji, Al-Dabibi’s lawyer, holds the prison administration primarily responsible for obstructing his client’s case by failing to transfer inmates to court.
The ARIJ investigator, during his third visit to Al- Hudaydah Central Prison on May 13, 2018, observed eight inmates in the building waiting to be transferred to the courts and prosecutors. Despite three hours passing, the investigator noticed that the inmates were still waiting for the escort and transport vehicles when he left.
The detainees and prisoners visited by the investigator suffer from similar circumstances that have prevented them from going through the regular processes of their court cases.
According to Majed al-Sharafi, Hudaydah’s central and reserve prisons contain approximately 300 to 350 inmates who have been awaiting trial proceedings for periods of up to four years.
The investigator tried to interview the prosecutor of Al-Hudaydah prison, Judge Fuad Al-Maqtari, during the four days he spent in the prison yard, however, the judge was not around. Consequently, he resorted to contacting him repeatedly over the phone, but his attempts were unsuccessful.
The former deputy director of the Central Prison, Judge Sarim El-Din Abdul-Wali, refuses to accuse the judiciary of delaying the court hearings. Instead he believes that the security authorities in prison departments are responsible for 90% of the delays while the prosecution is responsible for 10%.
"The absence of judges or members of the public prosecutors' office is due to the repeated failure to transport the accused," he added, describing the absence of the judges as "a rare event". Additionally, he denies the security services’ accusations that the prosecution does not follow up on the detainees' cases.
Judge Moufdal stresses that "the Prison Prosecution (affiliated with the Public Prosecution) is authorised and responsible for following up on the cases of prisoners who are awaiting trial." This office is also entrusted with "everything related to holding the sessions, such as scheduling". He confirms that this problem "is not recent, but has been present for years", reiterating the causes for the delays which are due to "the small number of courts and prosecutors compared to the number of cases."
However, Judge Moufdal shares Major Al-Sharafi's complaint about "the lack of vehicles and security forces required to transport the prisoners and detainees."
The source did not specify the number of complaints or actions taken by the investigative body but clarified that it "directed the judges to quickly resolve prisoners’ cases.” He explains that the law dictates "a certain period for the settlement of cases, because each case has its implications and procedures".
On the repeated change of judges five years upon their appointment, the source acknowledges the effect of this on the progress of the dismissal of cases as “minor”. It also justifies the transfer by "the need of the Supreme Judicial Council for the judge in a more important place, or the incompatibility and efficiency of the judge in the place designated in it."
According to statistics from Sana’a’s Prison Prosecution, the prison receives between eight and 16 requests to transport inmates every day from the prosecution and the courts, where attorneys sometimes have to delay the transfer of inmates until the transport equipment is available.
Statistics from the Ministry of Justice in Sana'a indicate that there are 48 judges in Al-Hudaydah, distributed over 22 courts, at a rate of two judges for most of its courts.
The central prison administration in the capital's secretariat refused to make any statements except through a note from the Presidency of the Prison Authority in Sana’a, which referred the investigator’s request to the General Manager of the department.
However, the investigator, after six months of trying, obtained permission from the Prison Authority to interview four inmates at the central prison. Further, the prison administration refrained from disclosing the number of inmates who are under trial, and the periods they spent in prison or the charges assigned to them. This was done under the pretext that this information can be used as "dangerous intelligence” in light of the situation in Yemen.
Three of the four cases that the investigator was allowed to interview were prisoners with cases (initially) pending at the Bilad al-Rus and Bani Bahloul Court, located in Sana'a. This court was closed for five months in 2017 due to the absence of the judges.
Since Muhammad al-Humaida was imprisoned in Sana'a Central Prison on February 17, 2009, five judges of the Bilad al-Rus Court and Bani Bahlul Court were assigned to his case. After nine years, this man was sentenced to death after being convicted of murder. This began his journey to appeal his conviction, in which the prisoner no longer remembers how many times he was taken to court.
President of the Bilad al-Rus Court Bani Bahloul describes the institution as “two courtrooms in a building that is not prepared for the amount of activity and work required of a modern legal court”.
Bargashi adds, “there are courts that were established many years ago for one judge, but now more than 20 judges are working in them”.
Judge Al-Barghashi, appointed in November 2017, agrees with Judge Sarim El-Din on the reasons for the delay in the processing of cases. The two judges indicate that there is an insufficient amount of administrative staff at the courts; facilities are not qualified to handle the volume of cases; and that prosecution members are often absent. He explains that "the failure of the security agencies, represented by the investigators, to collect evidence at the time of the crime, and to monitor the evidence, affects the course of the case and prolongs the duration of the research and litigation”.
Judge Al-Barghashi justifies the delay in the processing of cases due to the high number and volume of cases compared to the number of staff available to process these cases: “our pending homicide cases amount to 86 cases as of October 2019, with only five judges and two courtrooms, which is not sufficient”.
Al-Barghashi also denies any absence of the judges: “the judge cannot be absent from holding the sessions, but the absence is instead from the public prosecutor.”
Al-Barghashi stresses that the transfer of judges from one court to another before five years of their appointment "affects the progress of the proceedings and their deliberation, as the new judge needs time to review the case file."