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Human rights defender sentenced to eight-year prison term

(CIHRS/ IFEX) - 4 February 2010 - The undersigned organizations wish to express their grave concern about the worrisome deterioration of the state of human rights in Yemen. The Yemeni authorities are increasingly taking retaliatory measures against human rights defenders who have the courage to expose human rights abuses in the country, both those occurring in the context of the war in Saada in the north and those accompanying the repression of social and political ferment in the south.

The undersigned organizations condemn in particular the unfair prosecution of rights defender Yasser al-Wazir, a member of the Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Rights and Democratic Freedoms, who just a few days ago was sentenced to eight years in prison. This wrongful punishment is only the most recent of a string of abuses targeting al-Wazir - abuses closely related to his activities as a rights activist and the role his organization plays in documenting abuses related to the war in Saada, where members of the Zaidi confession, who constitute a majority of the population in Saada, have been exposed to all manner of collective punishment, discrimination, and repression because of their faith.

Yasser al-Wazir was abducted more than 18 months ago by the political police. For more than three months, his whereabouts were unknown and he was denied family visits. It is believed that he was tortured and spent long stretches of time in solitary confinement during this period. Al-Wazir remained detained without charge until two months ago, when the authorities referred him to trial on trumped-up charges, including charges of forming an armed group, although al-Wazir was never questioned about this accusation.

His trial was conducted in semi-secret conditions, in closed sessions, and al-Wazir was not informed about the trial dates. His attorney did not attend the trial, which was conducted before the Special Criminal Court, a state security court whose constitutionality is questionable. Defendants in this court are not given the procedural and legal rights that guarantee due process and a fair trial.

The undersigned organizations express their full solidarity with Yasser al-Wazir and all members of the human rights movement in Yemen, which is currently working amid an atmosphere of fear in which the authorities are blocking all avenues of peaceful expression and silencing voices critical of the catastrophic policies of the Yemeni regime, which threaten to completely tear apart what remains of the central state structure.

We urge the Yemeni authorities to immediately release al-Wazir and take decisive measures to stop the kidnappings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest, which are standard tactics used to deal with political opponents, independent journalists, and human rights defenders.

We reiterate the international community's responsibility for putting an end to abuses that are targeting ever-broader swathes of the Yemeni population. In particular, the undersigned organizations call on the UN Human Rights Council and its special rapporteurs - namely, the rapporteurs for human rights defenders, for the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and for torture and other inhumane punishment, as well as the UN teams working on arbitrary detention and involuntary disappearance - to take appropriate measures as defined by their mandates to encourage the Yemeni government to end these serious abuses and the government tactics used to repress human rights defenders and thus silence the voices of human rights victims in the country.

1. Al-Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence - Egypt
2. Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights
3. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies - Egypt
4. Arab Foundation for the Support of Civil Society and Human Rights - Egypt
5. Arab Penal Reform Organization - Egypt
6. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information - Egypt
7. Bahrain Center for Human Rights
8. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
9. Center for Alternative Development Studies - Egypt
10. Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services - Egypt
11. Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
12. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
13. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
14. The Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of Childhood Conditions
15. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights - Egypt
16. Hisham Mubarak Law Center - Egypt
17. Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners - Egypt
18. Human Rights First Society - Saudi Arabia
19. Land Center for Human Rights - Egypt
20. Maharat Foundation - Lebanon
21. New Women Foundation - Egypt
22. Palestinian Human Rights Organization-Huquq - Lebanon
23. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
24. Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights
25. Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Rights and Democratic Freedoms

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