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Human rights organisation attacked following publication of report on torture

(CIHRS/IFEX) - The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) strongly condemns the attack on the headquarters of The Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights in the Yemeni capital on the evening of 22 November 2009, during which some materials were tampered with and equipment was smashed. CIHRS is also deeply concerned over the serious threat posed to the life of the chairperson of the Forum, Ms. Amal Al-Basha, because recently the security system for the rear brakes of her car was willfully damaged. On another day, while she was leaving the Criminal Court after attending the trial of political activists in South Yemen, unknown persons terrorized her by spraying a liquid in her face - in a way similar to that practiced by some Islamic extremists when they throw corrosive liquids into women's faces, causing burns and blindness. She has also been receiving repeated telephone calls after midnight from unknown persons.

A statement released by The Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights notes that these attacks took place a few weeks after the Forum presented, in collaboration with a number of other Yemeni human rights organizations, a national shadow report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture; a report which was jointly prepared in coordination with CIHRS, The International Federation for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch. Due to this report, the United Nations Committee Against Torture adopted firm recommendations calling on the Yemeni authorities to enact the necessary legal and practical measures to prohibit torture, punish its perpetrators and reform prisons. It should be noted that following the presentation of the report, the Yemeni Ambassador to Switzerland and the Minister of Human Rights in Yemen attempted to obtain the names of the authors of the report from one of the members of the delegation of Yemeni organizations.

It is widely believed in Yemen that the National Security Agency is behind this pattern of attacks. CIHRS believes that if the Yemeni authorities wish to clear themselves of allegations of responsibility for the attacks on The Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights and its chairperson, they must take firm action to unmask the identity of the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The authorities have not initiated any investigations so far, despite the official police report presented by the Forum and the fact that those responsible for the attack on the organisation's offices did not steal anything, which suggests that the motives behind the attack were to terrorize Yemeni jurists and human rights activists.

The targeting of The Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights and its chairperson is an indicator that the policies being pursued by the Yemeni authorities are turning the country into a large-scale war zone that does not stop at the borders of conflict-ridden areas of the country in the north and south. Simultaneously to those conflicts, the Yemeni regime has sparked a separate war on freedom of the press and independent press institutions that expose the crimes committed by the regime in the north and south. This was reflected in the closure or prohibition of the distribution or printing of at least a dozen newspapers, the storming of some journalistic institutions, the siege and burning of some newspaper distribution trucks, as well as the bringing of a number of journalists to trial. Some of the journalists have received - apart from prison terms - additional penalties requiring them to be either provisionally or permanently prevented from practicing the profession. Furthermore, one journalist has been missing for several months and his whereabouts are unknown.

Human rights defenders who are monitoring and documenting abuses in the recent war in Sa'da, in the north, and in the southern part of the country are increasingly becoming targets of abduction, forced disappearance, torture and prolonged arbitrary detention without charge or trial.

Finally, CIHRS expresses its solidarity with The Arab Sisters Forum for Human Rights and its leader, Amal al-Basha, and with the courageous Yemeni human rights institutions and journalists who bravely disclose serious violations witnessed in the country. CIHRS also emphasizes the need for concerted efforts by various international and regional human rights bodies, in order to put an end to the growing frequency of attacks on human rights defenders in Yemen. This would also play a role in blocking the Yemeni authorities' schemes to stifle the voices of victims of human rights violations and their advocates, among them journalists and lawyers, in light of a regime addicted to repression and military solutions to ensure its survival.

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