Monday, February 28, 2011
Observed by: Mr. Alaa Isam
26 February 2011
Amnesty International has received reports that security forces in Yemen refused to allow residents to take the injured to hospital after Central Security forces fired on anti-government protesters and bystanders on Thursday when at least 11 people were killed.
Security forces fired on protesters from armoured vehicles, as well as attacking houses where protesters were believed to have been seeking shelter. Two men were said to have been killed in their houses during a period of intensive gunfire, both of them shot in the head.
"Events in Yemen are taking a serious turn for the worse and the Yemeni security forces are showing reckless disregard for human life," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The Yemeni authorities have a duty to ensure that those injured receive medical treatment. They must on no account block access to urgently needed medical assistance, particularly when people’s lives may be at risk."
One doctor told Amnesty International: "I went to the al-Mu'alla area to take those injured to hospital, but when I reached there, security forces refused to allow me in, and told me to go back. I showed them my ID, and told them that I was a doctor and wanted to help the injured who were bleeding in the streets. But security forces said to me: 'Let them die!' I had to go back."
The death toll in recent protests calling on the Yemeni president to stand down has now reached 27, with an average of nearly three people killed every day since 16 February. Twenty-four of them have been killed in Aden, two in Sana’a and one in Ta’izz.
"The authorities must launch a prompt and independent investigation into the killings of protesters and bystanders in Yemen and reports of denial of access to medical assistance," said Philip Luther.
"Amnesty International has repeatedly warned the Yemeni authorities to rein in their security forces. Their heavy-handed tactics against protesters must immediately cease."
Yemen urged to halt escalating crackdown after two reported killed in capital (News, 23 February 2011)
Demanding Change In The Middle East And North Africa (News and multimedia microsite)
Sunday, February 27, 2011
At Least 31 Journalists Beaten, Harassed During Demonstrations
State security forces have participated in or stood by during brutal attacks on journalists covering the February 2011 demonstrations against Yemen's president, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces or armed supporters of the president have beaten or harassed at least 31 international and Yemeni journalists in an effort to quash reporting on the protests.
"Beating up journalists is a blatant attempt by the authorities to prevent the Yemeni people and the world from witnessing a critical moment in Yemen," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "Yemeni authorities should halt these attacks and promptly bring assailants, including security officials, to justice."
Human Rights Watch interviewed five journalists who were attacked by security forces or as security officials watched. Human Rights Watch also obtained information on 20 incidents of attacks, detention, or harassment of journalists from the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, and additional cases from the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
The journalists who were attacked represented media including the Al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera satellite television channels; Al-Quds al-Arabi and the Guardian newspapers; news agencies including the BBC, The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse; and news websites including Bern-based Swissinfo and Yemen's Marib Press.
Human Rights Watch said the attacks are part of an escalating crackdown on the media by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's security forces, who have harassed, beaten, or illegally detained scores of journalists over the past two years for independent or critical coverage. A government spokesman did not return repeated requests for comment.
Many of the attacks during February 2011 anti-government demonstrations took place at or near the main square at Sanaa University, the central gathering place for anti-Saleh protesters in the capital. In one incident, Abd al-Karim Sallam, a reporter for Swissinfo, said three plainclothes security agents attacked him while he was taking a bus to the protests around 9:30 p.m. on February 20, because they overhead him and a colleague describe pro-government protesters as "thugs."
"We can always recognize them by their style and haircuts," Sallam, who was hospitalized from the attack and days later still wore a bandage on his left cheek, said of the security agents. "As soon as we mentioned the thugs moving toward the square, one of them started talking to us very aggressively, saying, ‘You are the thugs; it's all your fault; you journalists are destroying the country.' I tried to talk to them, but one of them just punched me in the face with a heavy blow, then got my head into a lock with his arm, and then all three of them started beating me on the head and back."
When the bus stopped, the agents "started shouting to the thugs who were nearby to come and get us, but we managed to jump out and escape," Sallam said.
In another incident, the head of the country's US-funded Counter-Terrorism Unit and a specialized police officer in plainclothes failed to intervene in attacks on three television journalists at Sanaa University square the night of February 18.
Al-Arabiya's Sanaa bureau chief Hamoud Munasser, his cameraman Fu'ad al-Khadhr, and freelancer Muhammad Sa'id al-Sharabi told Human Rights Watch that their ordeal began when a mob beat them with sticks and took their camera. Munasser and al-Khadhr still had visible bruises on their arms and legs a few days later.
Al-Khadhr said that as he was filming, he suddenly saw about 200 government supporters armed with stones and sticks rush toward demonstrating students. Munasser said about 20 men who diverted from the larger group began "violently beating [al-Khadhr] on the head and all over his body with sticks" before attacking him.
"I grabbed the camera and ran to try to lead the thugs away from al-Khadhr, but they quickly caught up with me," Munasser said. "They grabbed the camera, tore off the screen and the lens, and pulled it out of my hands."
As the three journalists fled toward their nearby car, Munasser spotted the director of the Yemeni Counter-Terrorism Unit, a US-funded division of the Interior Ministry, whom he knew. The counterterrorism official called the interior minister on his cell phone and let Munasser describe the attack, but the minister dismissed the incident as "impossible," before ultimately promising to investigate, Munasser said.
Meanwhile, about five of the assailants caught up with the journalists and began smashing their car with sticks and stones. The counterterrorism director, accompanied by a plainclothes official who Munasser recognized as a member of the Criminal Investigation Department, saw the attack but did not stop it, Munasser said. He said the interior minister told him three days later that he could not find the attackers.
In a third incident, a plainclothes security officer watched and spoke into a radio as a group of government supporters attacked Muhi al-Din Jarma, who reports for London-based Al-Quds and Yemeni newspapers. Jarma, who suffered head injuries and internal bleeding from the attack, told Human Rights Watch he fled the university square the night of February 17 when government supporters began throwing rocks at demonstrators. A group of 9 or 10 men chased him and beat him with sticks until he began bleeding profusely.
"He [the plainclothes policeman] watched them beating me for some time, but then approached, told them, ‘Enough,' and led me toward an ambulance," Jarma said. "For a moment, I felt safe, but then I saw that the ambulance was also surrounded by government supporters with sticks. The officer led me closer to the crowd and just left me there. The thugs immediately attacked me again, and kept beating me with sticks and kicking me as I was trying to make my way to the ambulance.
In addition to attacks at protests, a specialized police anti-piracy unit arrested 18 journalists from the newspaper Al-Yaqeen in Aden on February 18, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The newspaper had reported on the anti-government demonstrations in detail and named the protesters who were killed or injured.
The Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate sent the Ministry of Interior details of each attack it documented, requesting an investigation, the union's secretary general, Marwan Dammaj, told Human Rights Watch. So far, the ministry has not responded, Dammaj said, adding that "At most, they refer the cases to the police to investigate."
Freedom of expression is a basic human right, set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Yemen has been a party to the ICCPR since 1987. Article 19 guarantees all individuals the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media."
Saleh on February 23 promised to prevent clashes at anti-government demonstrations and protect the right to freedom of expression.
"Saleh needs to make good on his promise to protect journalists and peaceful protesters," said Whitson. "Security is not a justification for muzzling free speech or curtailing other basic human rights."
Reporters Attacked, Harassed or Injured During February 2011 Anti-Government Demonstrations
Sources: Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
1. Khalil al-Berh, detained for half-hour in car by security officials, digital camera confiscated and returned with memory deleted, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ]
2. Khalid al-Mahdi, photographer for Reuters, detained and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ]
3. Hani al-Ansi, photographer for The Associated Press, camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ]
4. Wajdi Assalmi, of Hadith al-Madina newspaper, beaten by armed men and camera destroyed, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ]
5. Samia al-Aghrabi, fell and injured head while fleeing armed men, February 13. [YJS, CPJ]
6. Abdallah Gorab, correspondent for the BBC, beaten with sticks by men armed with knives and guns, Sanaa, February 14. Attackers brought Gorab to Yemeni government official Hafez Meiyad, an associate of the president, who rebuked him for tarnishing Yemen's reputation, the BBC reported. [YJS, CPJ, BBC]
7. Mohamed Omran, cameraman for BBC, beaten and watch stolen in same attack as Abdallah Gorab, Sanaa, February 14. [CPJ, BBC]
8. Majid Shuaibi, Mareb Press, attacked and camera confiscated by armed men, Sanaa, February 14. [YJS]
9. Salah Saleh, beaten and detained at demonstration, Taizz, February 15. [YJS]
10. Hassan al-Watat, beaten by armed men, February 16. [CPJ]
11. Ahmed Ghrasi, photographer for Agence France-Presse, beaten and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ]
12. Yahya Arhab, European Pressphoto Agency, attacked and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ]
13. Adel Abdulmughni, reporter for Al-Wahdawi newspaper, attacked and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ]
14. Amr Awd, Reuters, beaten and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ]
15. Samir al-Namri, al-Jazeera, beaten and camera destroyed, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ]
16. Muhi al-Din Jarma, reporter for Al-Quds, suffered severe head injuries and internal bleeding after beating by armed men while a plainclothes policeman watched, Sanaa, February 17. [HRW, YJS]
17. Akram al-Talyae, verbally abused, physically assaulted and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS]
18. Tom Finn, correspondent for the Guardian, attacked by a group of men in Sanaa, February 17. [RWB]
19. Yasser al-Ma'amari, photographer for al-Qatariya, no further details, Sanaa, February 18. [RWB]
20. Hamoud Munasser, Sanaa bureau chief for Al-Arabiya, beaten with sticks by armed men, Sanaa, February 18. Car attacked by same group in front of director of US-funded Counterterrorism Unit and a Central Investigation Department official. [HRW, YJS, RWB]
21. Fu'ad al-Khadhr, cameraman for Al-Arabiya, beaten and camera seized by armed men in Sanaa, February 18. [HRW, YJS, RWB]
22. Muhammad Sa'id al-Sharabi, freelance reporter, attacked by men armed with sticks, Sanaa, February 18. [HRW]
23. Abd al-Qawi al-Soufi: Al-Arabiya cameraman, beaten by pro-government supporters and his camera broken, February 18. [CPJ]
24. Awsan al-Qaatabi, correspondent for Iran's al-Alam TV, attacked, Sanaa, February 18. [YJS, RWB]
25. Yasser al-Maamari, cameraman for Qatar TV, attacked, Sanaa, February 18. [RWB]
26. Abd al-Karim Sallam, a correspondent for Swissinfo, attacked by armed men as a plainclothes government security officer watched, subsequently hospitalized, Sanaa, February 20. [HRW, YJS, RWB]
27. Zaki Saqladi, correspondent for al-Masdar Online, attacked, car and camera seized, ad-Dali, February 22. [RWB]
28. Marzouq Yasin, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ]
29. Abdel Rahman Anis, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ]
30. Bassim al-Shaabi, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ]
31. Fares al-Jalal, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ]
Source: Via Human Rights Watch http://bit.ly/fI57va
AFP: by Hammoud Mounassar
Despite two weeks of escalating protests demanding that he step down, after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia forced the resignations of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Saleh has repeatedly refused to resign.
In his latest comments, reported by the state-run Saba news agency on Sunday, he accused his opponents of trying to revive secessionist efforts that sparked a short-lived civil war in 1994.
"There is a conspiracy against Yemen's unity and territorial integrity and we, in the armed forces, have served to preserve the republican regime with every drop of blood we have," Saba quoted Saleh as saying.
"We are trying in every way possible to deal with and overcome these difficulties democratically, through dialogue with all political leaders, but in vain."
His one concession has been to pledge not to seek re-election in 2013.
An AFP tally based on reports by medics and witnesses shows that at least 19 people have been killed in almost daily clashes since February 16.
Amnesty International has put the toll at 27, an average of nearly three killed every day, since the protests began. Most of the victims were killed in the southern city of Aden, with two in Sanaa and one in Taez in the north.
On Sunday, five protesters were wounded as police dispersed a demonstration of students calling for the fall of the regime, in the city of Mukala, in Hadramawt province.
Medics said one protester was wounded by a bullet, and the other four injured were beaten by batons.
But a local official quoted by Saba said police did not clash with demonstrators in Mukala, insisting that a confrontation took place between protesters and "rioters with batons who infiltrated" the demonstration.
Pressure on Saleh to bow out intensified on Saturday when the leaders of Hashid and Baqil, two of Yemen's most important tribes, abandoned him and joined the anti-regime movement.
The protests have been strongest in south Yemen, which united with the Saleh-ruled north only in 1990.
The south attempted to secede in 1994, sparking a short-lived civil war that ended with the region being overrun by northern troops.
In an address to military and police forces late on Saturday, Saleh accused southerners of again seeking to secede and "divide Yemen" and northerners of aiming to reinstate the monarchy that ruled the country until 1962.
The south has been the site of the deadliest violence since the start of the protests, with four people killed in a Friday night police assault on an anti-government protest in Aden.
A security source told AFP that five Southern Movement activists, including former diplomat Qassem Askar, were arrested on Sunday on suspicion of having fomented violence in a massive demonstration on Friday.
The demonstration, dubbed "the beginning of the end" of his regime which swept to power in Sanaa in 1978, saw an estimated 100,000 Yemenis turn out across the country.
Human rights group Amnesty International has said it received reports the security forces refused to allow the wounded to be taken to hospital after the attack.
But a Yemeni security official denied there was a police raid, blaming the deaths instead on the secessionist Southern Movement, according to the 26sep.net website of the defence ministry's newspaper.
In the capital, students on Sunday maintained a sit-in outside Sanaa University, where they have vowed to remain until the fall of Saleh's regime.
And in Taez, south of Sanaa, protesters continued their second week camping out in a main square to demand that Saleh stand down.
Situated at the strategic southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen -- the ancestral home ofOsama bin Laden -- has been fighting Al-Qaeda insurgents in its south and east.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
by : T.S. Raymond
But today, though small synagogues and homes decorated with the Star of David still stand in Yemeni villages, most of the Yemeni Jews have left the country. The Yemeni Christian population is virtually non-existent, save for a few families in Aden. On a whole, it is difficult to discern the religious diversity that once existed in Yemen. In most cities and towns in Yemen, mosques are the sole visible institutions of religious worship.
Yet despite the rising homogenization of religion in society, there are still four actively operating churches in existence in Aden to this day. They maintain a low profile in Yemen and seek to be a minimal presence in Aden. But entering through their large double doors, one discovers a faith that has been quietly preserved throughout the years, continuing its traditions and practices against declining numbers in congregation and the tides of Islamism.
Slipping into the St. Francis of Assisi Roman-Catholic Church, visitors are greeted by the low murmur of prayers being recited as ten to fifteen parishioners kneel, hands clasped and eyes closed. Behind the pulpit, stained glass representations of religious images are surrounded by bright lights and framed by the high and arching ceilings. The voices and organ music (replicated through electronic synthesizer) echo across tall walls and create a sense of calming unity.
Ever so often, the white-clad nuns in the front rows recite responses to the prayer, which ripple through the pews. The mass follows a typical Catholic liturgy and the congregation alternates between kneeling to pray, standing to sing, and sitting to listen to the priest. The evening ends with the taking of communion and the concluding rites. Still surrounded by a silent calm, members of the congregation slowly shuffle out of the church.
Out in the balmy evening air, the congregation mingles freely, introducing themselves to new guests and chatting with familiar faces. Small, cheerful nuns in white habits laugh and chatter away with old friends. It is a multi-racial group of churchgoers, consisting predominately of Indians and Filipinos, with a small number of Europeans, Ethiopians, and Yemenis amongst them.
Built by the Franciscan missionaries from Florence over 150 years ago, the Catholic churches enjoyed a strong following in Aden under British rule, and for several years housed the Bishop for the Middle East. This period of free and open practice came to a halt in 1967, when the Marxist government requisitioned all churches in Aden. At the same time, the Marxists also shut down the four Catholic schools being run by the churches. Father Angelo, the priest at the time, remained inside the Tawahi cathedral, maintaining the final bastion of Christian faith during the Communist era. “If he had run away,” Puthangady explains, “the government would have seized the church.”
In 1972, though the churches had not yet been reopened, a request from the Yemeni government brought nuns from the Mother Teresa Sisters of Charity in Calcutta to the country. The Sisters established several elderly and disabled care centers throughout Yemen. Today, twenty-six nuns provide nursing services to the abandoned, disabled, elderly, and convalescent. Their activities for them represent Christian values, but are provided as secular services to local communities.
There are four Catholic priests working in the main governorates of Sana’a, Hudeidah, Taiz, and Aden. Outside of Aden, priests are forced to rent out houses to hold their services, due to the lack of churches. In Aden, the presence of churches enables Catholics to practice more freely. “In Aden, they know about the church, and so they are more tolerant,” says Puthangady. “They don’t trouble us, and the government is generally supportive.”
Though the Yemeni Constitution upholds religious freedom, it is impossible to deny the changes that are happening within society with the ever-increasing rise of conservative Islam. Churches are forced more and more to maintain a cautious and low profile. “We used to have beautiful bells in the church which we would ring,” the priest recalls fondly, “now, we don’t ring them anymore. We don’t want to create any animosity.”
Much of this wariness arises out of a fear of anti-Christian sentiment. In 1998, three nuns were shot on their way out of the disabled health clinic where they worked in Hudeidah. “They were killed by an anti-Christian group that was opposed to other religions and assumed that we were trying to convert people,” says Puthangady, who witnessed the transfer of the bodies to the Ma’alla cemetery. “Even the Yemenis were very sorry…after all, they were doing good work. They just wanted to help people.”
Despite the attack, the Sisters of Charity and other Church leaders continued maintaining a presence in Yemen. But the priest now shies away from working with Islamic groups, afraid that his actions might be misinterpreted as evangelism. “When people are curious about our religion, or ask for Bibles, we have to be cautious, because it could be a trap.”
Further down the road, the white walls surrounding Christ Church and Ras Morbat Clinic bisect the road leading towards the beaches of Tawahi. Serving as the last surviving Anglican church in Aden, it has followed a somewhat different trajectory than the three Catholic churches. Built in 1863 as a garrison church for British forces in Aden, it was once one of many Anglican churches in the area. In 1970, it was seized by the Communist government and converted to a storage building and a gymnasium.
Starting in 1987, the Bishop of the Cyprus and the Gulf region engaged in negotiations with the government of South Yemen to secure the return of the church. The unification of North and South Yemen brought about a new government, which placed as a condition to the diocese that the church could be reopened if it agreed to also establish a medical clinic for the people. During these negotiations, the Bishop also secured a fatwa from the Grand Mufti of Yemen, Sheikh Ahmed Zabara, which stated that Christians should be permitted to worship freely in Christ Church, “just as Muslims are free to worship in the West.” With this and the establishment of the clinic, the Church was restored and rededicated in 1997.
Reverend Nigel Dawkins, from London, has recently taken over the position of pastor at Christ Church, Aden. He holds daily prayer meetings in the morning with the staff at the church, and one service a week. Like most Anglican churches in the Arabian Gulf, services are held on Friday mornings in accommodation with local schedules. His congregation ranges from about thirty to forty people during the year, and consists of people from the Philippines, Canada, Netherlands, Pakistan, and Germany, to name a few.
But religious services are only a small part of the church’s activities. For the most part, Dawkins’ time is spent running the clinic, setting up a vocational training institute to teach Yemenis and Somali refugees carpentry work, and serving as honorary port chaplain as part of the Mission to Seafarers program. For him, these services are the most rewarding part of his work. “I feel strongly that my role here is to run the church for expat Christians, and to run a clinic imbued with Christian values,” Dawkins explains. “My purpose here is not to convert people, but to show the love of God through the work that we do at the clinic.”
The Ras Morbat clinic started in 1996 as a clinic for mothers and infants, which soon expanded to general practitioner services for Tawahi residents. For a 200 YR fee, people would have unlimited access to basic health services, doctors, nurses, and medicine for a year.
But what makes the church most well known in Yemen is its eye clinic, for which patients come from hundreds of miles away to receive eye care. Opened in 2002, with an operating theater and laboratory, the clinic was set up to treat cataracts, glaucoma, provide eye tests, glasses, etc. Patients pay 200 YR for basic testing, and are charged a subsidized fee for more complex operations. Unlike the general clinic, this center is open to all Yemenis.
The clinic has allowed the church to become a respected and tolerated fixture in the local community. “It was an opportunity for us to make a difference,” says Dawkins, “And lots of local community members come inside our gates to receive high quality treatment. They can see the church is caring for them.” Dawkins hopes to further expand the work of the Church, work more closely with local organizations and mosques to better serve the community, and initiate new programs to provide assistance and support to the Yemeni population.
Because Christ Church is the only Protestant church in Yemen, its congregation is not only Anglican, but contains a diverse group of people of various Protestant denominations. “The style of service and worship is different,” Philippa, a British woman who has lived in Yemen for seven years, explains, “but we come here to worship God, in any style. It’s very important that here, where Christians are a minority, they gather and worship together and don’t let small differences divide the community.”
Rex, a conservative Baptist from the Philippines, has been coming to the church with his family since 2007. Though the liturgy of the Anglican church is different from the liveliness that he is used to, he nonetheless attends the services because “Our faith must be practiced. By coming to church, we feel fellowship with other Christians…Before I discovered the church, I was searching for a place to worship…I was in that blind state.”
Working in Yemen poses many challenges to the pastors and priests. The church leaders must learn to work with a multi-national congregation, many of whom are non-native English speakers. To meet the linguistic needs of their members, the Catholic Church holds a Malayalam service for South Indians, and Christ Church holds a weekly Amharic service for Ethiopians.
Most parishioners and church leaders have found that the long-standing presence of the churches in Aden and the services provided by the churches, which come without conditions or evangelism, have helped the local Yemeni community to respect and accept their presence. Philippa is on the Council for the Mission for Seafarers, which assists ship captains and crew in ensuring their safety and health on board the vessels, and her husband, a medical professional, helps out at the clinic. “We demonstrate God’s love to the community by practically serving them. This is for us what religion should be about,” she says.
At St. Francis Assisi Church, a friendly and outgoing young lady, about 27 years old, is one of the last few remaining Yemeni Christians in the country. She describes how Christianity used to be much more widespread in Yemen, through the Ethiopian influence and mixed couples in Aden. Under social pressure, many Yemeni Christians have converted to Islam or left the country. No doubt as a Yemeni, she has faced severe pressure to conform, yet she still continues to attend the weekly masses at each of the three Catholic churches in Aden, and has won the respect and admiration of other congregation for her resilience. “It’s a matter of believing. Many Yemenis believe that Islam is the last religion and don’t understand how Christianity can still exist. But we continue to keep our faith.”
When asked if she has faced any hostility from her neighbors and friends for her religious beliefs, she says, “My best friends are Muslim. The majority of Yemenis are very good…we are the only Christians living in our neighborhood and thanks be to God, the people treat us with respect. We are citizens here in Yemen and don’t feel we are different. The biggest problems come from people from the outside, from the villages or the countryside, who don’t understand our faith.”
Indeed, though the Churches may often feel limited in the work they are able to do in a predominately Muslim country, they perhaps see themselves as a present-day Father Angelo, holding down the last bastion of the Christian faith for those who still want to practice. Puthangady quietly describes his role in Yemen, “It is enough to just be here. By being here, we help the church continue in the country so that Christianity does not completely disappear.”
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Written By: Fares Anam
She was then surprised to sees him turn towards her and then he tried to fondle her body. She screamed and quickly got out of the taxi. Samah said that this was the third time that she had been exposed to sexual harassment by taxi drivers.
“They look in the mirror of the taxi, talk bad words in any subject, even if the girl doesn’t talk. This is harassment,” said Samah. And she is not alone in facing this problem.
A.E., 23, is from Sana’a and is a student at Sana’a University. She decided to take a taxi one day because she was late for a university lecture. As she drove in the taxi, the driver began asking her about the place she was going. She told him again that she wanted to go to Sana’a University. The driver then began ask her about her name and spoke words of love.
“I loved you when I saw you,” he told her and followed that up with some more obscene words. Enraged, she flew out of the taxi in hurry. Then she took another taxi but faced the same problem. And so vowed never to take a taxi again. Scores of women in Sana’a complain that taxi drivers often harass them. These drivers, they say, suffer from ignorance, a disdain for women and from a bias against women who leave their homes to work.
Shameful behavior Women say that these ill-behaved drivers will try many tactics to get the attention of females. Sua’ad al-Qadasi, chairperson of the Women’s Forum for Research and Training, said that she has heard a number of stories from women who have experienced taxi driver harassment. “I have received a lot of complaints from women saying that they were exposed to shocking words and some bad people who touch their bodies when they use taxis and especially also in buses,” said al-Qadasi. “This is shameful behavior and against Yemeni traditions. This bad behavior is due to the lack of education among people.” She also said that some men ask girls why they are leaving their homes and tell them that they should stay at home where they belong.
“The harassment starts with bad words. Other people do nothing and stay silent and then men touch the girl’s bodies,” said al-Qadasi. Those who can afford taxis do so because this is often the most efficient way to get from place to place. Women sometimes also assume that taxis will be safer than taking a bus where men commonly will try to put their hands on a woman’s knee.
Recently, with the entry of private sector investment in the public transport sector, some improved taxi services have emerged. Women feel safer in cars associated with a reliable taxi company. Several transport companies have been emerged recently in Sana’a. This includes the Raha Company which launched in Yemen in February 2005. It was followed by other companies, such as Marhaba and Karowah.
These companies use metered cars with standard fares. These cars allow passengers the opportunity to avoid the hassle of haggling for a good price. Also, many women have turned to these taxi companies because they feel safer in cars associated with a specific company that can be easily tracked. New companies are safer Majedah Ali, a university student, said that she preferred newer taxi companies. “They have controlled tariffs. There is harassment from the owners of old taxis because there is nobody that you can complain to about them. But those taxi drivers from better companies cannot do anything bad because there is a company behind them,” she said. Most Yemeni women prefer to avoid unmarked taxis because drivers in these vehicles often harass their female passengers. However, sometimes there is little choice.
Safa, who has always taken taxis, said that if she is in a hurry to go somewhere and finds an old taxi she would still take it. “But if I was not in a hurry, I would look for a new taxi. This makes the journey more relaxing for me. Sometimes I am exposed to harassment from the owners of taxis and they send me bad hints. Then I get out immediately,” said Safa. “New taxis have increased significantly and this will badly hurt the old taxi owners.” Saba al-Jaradi said that she prefers to take only new taxis because she feels comfortable and safe in them. “The old taxis are so terrible and it is broken and unclean.
I have not been exposed to harassment by taxi drivers, but I heard from my friends who received such harassment from disrespectful taxi drivers,” she said. Ebrahim Abdullah, a taxi driver, said that females are the reason behind bad behavior from taxi drivers.
“They do many things to tempt the taxi drivers, like their wearing attractive clothes and displaying tempting moves,” he said. Adnan Abdullah, another taxi driver, said that there are many drivers who do not have morals and no honor and they use their car as a place for harassment. “There are women who exploit drivers and play with them.
The extreme poverty is the main reason that the drivers resort to such things,” he said. The owners of old taxis feel disappointed and hopeless because the new taxis are taking their customers away from them. People prefer the new taxis for their cleanliness, modernity, affordability and safety. “Work has become very bad and it’s getting worse every day because the new taxis have spread. Most people who have money buy new taxis to earn more money. It is an investment,” said Salem Mohsen who has an old taxi.
Lack of religious beliefs Raha and other new taxis have had a good reception from Yemeni people but has encountered a number of rumors originating from old taxi owners. Some of these older drivers say that the new taxis are also involved in bad behavior.
Mohsen said that some women use these new taxis because it gives them more prestige and makes them look good. Adnan Abdullah, a taxi driver with the Raha Company, said that Raha drivers face some harassment and problems from the owners of old taxis. “They think that we took their work. It is ridiculous talking and I say to them that our livelihood is from God,” said Abdullah. There are some drivers who like to harass women but they are punished, said Abdullah. Hussam, a university student, said that the media also plays an important role in combating taxi drivers and their sexual harassment against women. “There should be an awareness campaign about it,” he said. Al-Qadasi said that the government should create awareness programs in all media to change the society’s behavior against women.
Many religious scholars believe that this phenomenon is due to the weakness of the driver’s Islamic beliefs. Mohamed Ahmed, a religious man, said that they lack the feeling of God’s scrutiny.
Samah thinks that many taxi drivers only bought a taxi to hunt women. “Most of them are rich and do not need to work in a taxi but their intentions are to chase girls in the street. This is shameful,” she said. “They have to ask themselves what if their sisters or mothers were exposed to such acts in any other taxi. What will they do?”