Prisoners of Bodies, not Prisoners of Ideas

Prisoners of Bodies, not Prisoners of Ideas

Prisoners of Bodies, not Prisoners of Ideas


Fatima M.
Former Female Prisoner

I was not the only one who was subjected to divorce and family breakdown just because I spent sometimes in prison in a case of fraud for which I was the victim. I found myself in isolation and loneliness occupied with concerns about my children and how their fate will be in my absence. How I will spend these difficult days behind closed walls where the space narrows and time stretches as if it were endless. At the beginning of my detention, I was crying all the time, as it never occurred to me that I would be a prisoner, be divorced and my children feel ashamed of their relation to me. My soul collapsed and I felt lost, especially when the old female inmates bullied me into washing their clothes, forcing me to arrange their beds and covers. I remembered those TV movies that were telling stories about the reality of female prisoners and thought it was only in the world of acting until I saw it by my own eyes and experienced it by myself.

I was wondering would I spend the rest of my life like this, allow the emptiness to ravage me with memories of the past, and feel a sense of despair about the present and the future?

Soon the relief came with a new prison administration. It allowed some activities and sports. How astonished I was to know that the sewing, handicraft factory and the educational classes have been existed for years, but they were controlled the personalities who manage the prison.

I felt that the rehabilitation facility earned its name as the activities have changed the mood of female prisoners, including the bully ones, because their engagement with these activities made them calmer and in tune with the rest of the prisoners.

These activities opened a window of hope for me that when I got out of prison, I would not be the one who did not have any profession, but rather I would acquire a profession that would help me restore my previous life or start a new life. It is well known in our country that female prisoners are rejected by society after their release and are always pursued by suspicious looks wherever they go.
The days were not as heavy and bleak as they used to be; the morning became beautiful waiting my sewing class to start with great passion. I also taught some female inmates the basics of reading and writing. By so, these small details have entered my life with joy and a sense of achievement.
After that, we raised our slogan then, “We are prisoners of bodies ... not prisoners of ideas”. Our minds became open and our ideas touched the horizons of creativity. Our days were colored in prison despite the ordeal we are living in.
We remained in this situation for nearly a year. Then, the prison administration changed and we returned to the first episode. The void episode that preys on us with all its disadvantages, so the door to activities was closed again and the problems of bullying in the prison returned not only to weak female prisoners, but also to some security cadres who did not receive training enough qualified them to work in this facility.

Meanwhile, a release ruling was issued for me, so I left prison feeling very happy for my freedom and innocence from the accusation. That feeling of joy mixed with a feeling of sadness for the rest of the female prisoners whose days and years of life would be lost in a prison surrounded by emptiness and darkness..

 

A Prisoner but Also a Woman

A Prisoner but Also a Woman

A Prisoner but Also a Woman

Ammar Al-Shami

Lawyer and Human Rights Activist

It was a morning full of awareness.
It was a busy morning full of details and I found myself before so many conclusions. That morning, my perception grew deep in a way that invites my curiosity to know much about women prisoners’ issues.

I woke up realizing that women, especially Yemeni women, suffer a lot from negative discrimination, as well as her advantages that turn her suffering into positive isolation; that is why I decided to visit her in prison to know how women are now.

The feeling of imprisonment is bad for men and women. We all know that but what the majority of people are ignorant of is the extent of the blackness that the imprisoned women suffer in Yemen.

My concern about female prisoners here aims to clarify the stages of darkness that overwhelm them. Perhaps the first dark stage is the prison in itself, which is obvious for those who committed a sin. The second stage of darkness lies in the negligence and procrastination in looking into the issues of the imprisoned women, which is another sin; however, it is not by the women prisoners, nor the prison, nor even the law that grants them a distinct right due to their particularities.

The sin in the second stage of darkness falls on the shoulders of the administration concerned with providing all aspects of dignity to Yemeni women, whether in terms of the health care in prison or the special attention to food, drink, rehabilitation and others.

Many question marks swirled in my mind when I noticed the negligence, which, even if it was not deliberate, is a sin whose perpetrator is no less than the most criminal prisoners in this overcrowded center of woes and suffering.
The psychological and moral strength of women is undoubtedly negative in this situation, especially since the third stage of darkness is focused on the reputation and societal perception that will surround the women inmates after their release. Trust me, if I were a woman prisoner, I would not have refrained from committing the crime that was previously the cause of my imprisonment. Inevitably, everyone deserves to be hanged due to the suffering I endured throughout my detention. I also realize that I need a distinguished psychological and moral rehabilitation at a high level of quality and excellent health and nutritional care.
It is difficult for me to describe the size of the hell that women prisoners face in Yemen. If I am a human rights journalist, I can translate and transmit what my mind catches when I see it. However, I stand unable to describe what I realized during my visit to the women's prison, which is overcrowded with tragedies and full of emotional states that exceed cases of oppression of men by stages a lot.
It is a difficult matter - I mean explaining the suffering of female prisoners - but the most difficult thing is how many women lack care in their dignity-preserving limit.
Preserving their dignity will achieve the lofty goal of their imprisonment, i.e., their understanding of the mistake they have done and the reform of their conditions. Here, I hold the administration this responsibility, that they already know, the society, the media, the preachers, the scholars, the thinkers, the intellectuals, and everyone who understands the existence of women who are more responsible than the administration.
Well!

On my visit, I realized "what and not who" is the woman prisoner in Yemen. I also realized the blessing of the capable administration, and that humans have the ability to contain hell between four walls if they did not bear responsibility Moreover, I understand things that I would not have understood had I not visited the women's prison.
At the end, we must all be aware of our obligation towards female prisoners, especially with regard to the application of the law that preserves their dignity.

These are several things that we must bring to our attention, starting with that women have special needs that require our attention. Women in prison are like those with special needs. Finally, a human being is indeed the primary focus of attention and the pillar of all the activities of the universe.
We must realize this in the right of the imprisoned woman.

I am done now.

Aha, I remembered.
The fourth stage of the women’s darkness is to be overlooked by journalists and activists.

Don't forget this.
We bear a burden of their suffering, no less than those who made them suffer.
Now I can say that I have finished my words even though I realize that there is no end to such an issue.

Prison Is My Only Home

Prison Is My Only Home

Prison Is My Only Home

Amat Al-Salam

President of the Abducted Mothers Association

 

On my visit to one of the women's prisons in Yemen to follow up on some cases of female prisoners, we spoke to a woman who lives in the prison because there is no place to go after her husband was imprisoned on a criminal act. She is not a Yemeni citizen and therefore she could not live or travel alone. So, her husband asked the prison administration to accommodate her in the women's prison until he completes his sentence!

This complex and tragic situation in Yemen under the conflict has affected the lives of men and women citizens in every detail of life. They lost their safety and peace. Such suffering extends to the poor provision of social services required by all women, especially those who are victims of different forms of discrimination and violence. Therefore, we need to deeply to address the most miserable women, namely the detained and kidnapped ones.

Imprisonment of and assaulting women in any way is a black shame in the inherent Yemeni custom, an unforgivable sin. Abusing women by arrest is a harm and an insult to them and society, because women in Yemen enjoy a high position in terms of tribal and customary norms. Moreover, the Yemeni Constitution stipulated in Article (48\A) that “he state shall guarantee to its citizens their personal freedom, preserve their dignity and their security. The law shall define the cases in which citizens freedom may be restricted. Personal freedom cannot be restricted without a decision of a competent court of law.).
Since the beginning of the conflict, we have been living with direct violations and grave crimes against Yemeni women, the most prominent of which is that 157 women have been subjected to arbitrary detention by the parties to the conflict, foremost among which is Ansar Allah [Houthi group], according to Abductees’ Mothers Association. Some of these women were subjected to psychological and physical torture.

Many women kidnapped by Ansar Allah [Houthi group] have walked out of prison reporting some violations. We have heard of the violence that was used against them, such as beatings, tying up, hair shaving, solitary confinement, deprivation of food, being held in secret prisons, deprivation of communication with the outside world, seizing their money, and preventing them from traveling, and they still suffer until this day from the effects of this violence.

Mrs. Fatem, 70 years old, is one of the travelers who was detained at a checkpoint with her young granddaughters and was blackmailed to pay a ransom for the release of the granddaughters while she was still detained. She announced her hunger strike and later was released by a local mediation in which the Association contributed. Another prisoner is Ms. Dhekra Saeed who was released by UN mediation in Hodeida after she was taken by the Ansar Allah [Houthis] gunmen from a street in Hodeida while she was heading to her work. She was taken to the Central Prison in Hodeida from the Criminal Investigation Prison where she was detained for a while, during which she was interrogated and psychological and physical abused. In the past weeks, three female inmates in the Central Prison in Sana'a were severely beaten by guards of the prison administration, placed in solitary confinement, and prevented from communication or visits for three weeks.

The Abductees’ Mothers Association contributes to rescue the kidnapped or detained women reported to the Association by their relatives by all possible means, socially and officially, legally or through media outlets, and has remained close to their needs.
We, as a women-led human rights organization, hope that the Yemeni female kidnapped or prisoners will find, in all circumstances and levels, someone who supports them and holds their hands to survival. Efforts must be intensified to enable female prisoners to enjoy their rights, preserve their dignity, grant consideration to every woman kidnapped and every prisoner abused, help them to live in peace and safety, and rehabilitate them psychologically and professionally through an effective and realistic struggle against discrimination and violence against women.

Yemeni Female Prisoners ... Victims or Criminals?

Yemeni Female Prisoners ... Victims or Criminals?

Yemeni Female Prisoners ... Victims or Criminals?

Yasser Al-Maliki
Lawyer and human rights defender

One morning in the summer of last year, I was on a field visit to a preventive detention center in Taiz governorate (the Central Prison) with a number of young men. We went into the department of female prisoners. We sensed the oppression and pain over the place, prisoners crammed into separate cells from each other. There was no large open space for them to breathe fresh air and sit under the sun. When darkness falls, the female prisoners were obliged to sleep in their prison cell without light. Bathrooms are completely separate from the place, i.e., at night, the female prisoners are not allowed to go to the bathroom, because it is not inside or adjacent to their department and so it required female guards to wake up and accompanied them, which is an act of disturbance to the guards. Therefore, female prisoners must remain silent at night where there is no light or bathrooms.

While my colleagues and I observing this tragedy, I remembered what I had read earlier about prisons, where the services are like five stars. Among them is one of the most luxurious prisons in the world, the Prison Center of Justice in Leoben in Austria, where all persons deprived of their freedom are treated with humanity and respect that preserve the inherent dignity of the human being. There, each prisoner is given one cell with a private bathroom, a kitchenette and a TV set, in addition to the service available to all from a fully equipped gymnasium, and outdoor entertainment areas. I said to myself, “Where are we from this world given that women prisoners live in darkness and are not allowed to use the bathroom at night!”
I and my colleagues decided to set up an initiative to do something to improve the conditions of these women prisoners. We met with the prison administration, we suggested that a part of the wall be opened to the hall closest to the detention facility where women are being held. Our suggestion was welcomed by the administration. Then, we contacted local donors who provide the funding, and we started the work. We renovated the hall near the place of detention of women after opening a passage from their cells to the hall. So, the prisoners began to meet in this hall after they were living apart from each other. We provided electricity by setting up solar system, and so we lit the women's detention rooms. With the first bulb lighting up, we felt joy in the faces of the women prisoners. However, the problem of the toilet remained that unfortunately, we did not succeed in solving it, even we hoped we did. After that, we left the prison, and we hoped that the women prisoners would have a toilet attached to their prison so that they feel satisfied and with a little dignity that was wasted in the depths of the prison. However, have the authorities solved the prisoners' toilet problem, I doubt that!
This is not the only problem facing women prisoners in Taiz. Rather, it is certainly one of many issues facing all female prisoners in Yemen, given that Yemen's prisons lack many of the requirements that are considered the genuine right of prisoners, and specifically women prisoners, as they are among the groups that need special care and more attention inside Prisons.
The Yemeni Prisons Law stipulates many of the rights that must be provided to female prisoners, both in terms of setting up the place in all its aspects and facilities, providing food supported with nutritional value, finding integrated health care instead of the provision of health care for pregnant and lactating women and their children only, providing education for illiterate women, finding places for entertainment and education, providing psychological support, communicating with the outside world, allowing their families and lawyers to visit them, and many of the duties enacted by Yemeni law. Rights that are not stipulated in the Yemeni law are recognized by the international charters and treaties, most notably the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules), the most prominent of which was the necessity to deal with detainees with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human being.

I believe that human dignity is a feeling of satisfaction and lack of injustice, and in between this feeling and its opposite a mood that stems from within the human being of comfort. However, from my legal experience as a lawyer, I am certain that the feeling of human dignity has become stolen from Yemeni women prisoners. It is true that society looks at the woman prisoner as a criminal, but the brutal and unaware of the authoritarian behavior has entrenched this conviction among many people. Therefore, what the prisoners suffer the most is the wound of human dignity in them. Many of the stories that we have witnessed are of female prisoners who refuse to return to their families after the expiration of the sentence because their families do not want them to return, nor to see them. The social disgrace that people comprehend is attached to women prisoners because of the imprisonment of a woman does not disappear except by killing her if she returns from prison, so imprisoned women prefer not to return to their families and stay in prison, or to move to the women's shelters that existed before this conflict in Yemen.
What everyone should realize is that these women prisoners are mainly victims of the oppression and power of society and the corruption that we live in in all its forms. It goes without saying that prisons are not set up for punishment only, but for rehabilitation, education and training. While many prisons in the world have become reform centers, they are still the centers of punishment in Yemen only. On top of that, there is another punishment for women prisoners inside these prisons. Women prisoners are deprived of many means of health, rehabilitation, and access to the basic needs that keep them alive as a human being such as valuable food, drinking water, private toilets, sanitary facilities. As for the means of entertainment and the provision of means of communication with the outside world and means of knowledge, these rights seem out of reach in light of such a crisis situation.
It is true that the deprivation of the human dignity of female prisoners and their failure to obtain their rights in detention centers was before this conflict in Yemen is considered limited compared to what prisoners live during the armed conflict, for besides many of the rights that are not available to them in detention centers, the parties to the conflict do not hesitate to target female prisoners. With weapons, last year, six prisoners were killed and nearly ten others were injured in a reserve prison in Taiz, as a result of a shell that hit their place of detention in the prison. This crime reveals the extent of the ugliness with which female prisoners are treated in Yemen....
It is true that the deprivation of the human dignity of female prisoners and their failure to obtain their rights in detention centers was before this conflict in Yemen is considered limited compared to what women prisoners live during the armed conflict. In addition to many of the rights that are not granted to them in detention centers, the parties to the conflict do not hesitate to target female prisoners with weapons. Last year, six prisoners were killed and nearly ten others were injured in a preservative prison in Taiz, as a result of a shell that hit their detention facility in the prison. This crime reveals the extent of the ugliness with which female prisoners are treated in Yemen.
The authorities in Yemen, whether governmental or de facto authorities in Sana'a and Aden, do not grant women prisoners many of the rights they enjoy. This is a conclusion that many prison-goers, especially legal ones, realize. It is enough that women prisoners feel a major impairment in their human dignity, not just by their communities, rather from their surroundings inside prisons, the staff that run these prisons think of women prisoners as criminals deserve punishment, not as victims who must be rehabilitated and disciplined to return to society without psychological complications or social barriers.
The duty today is to feel the responsibility towards women prisoners, and to work towards achieving their rights, starting with the rehabilitation of the staff running prisons, then enhancing law enforcement and judiciary institutions that view woman prisoner as a sin that cannot be washed away by punishment, and ending with the women prisoners who are overcrowded in prisons and deprived of many of their rights. The inhuman treatment women prisoners usually receive indicate that violent and indignant women will be brought out into society, and they will do everything to avenge their broken souls.

 

Yemeni Female Prisoners…Endless Suffering

Yemeni Female Prisoners…Endless Suffering

Yemeni Female Prisoners…Endless Suffering

Olfat Al-Rifai
Human rights activist


While launching the Global campaign for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we find ourselves in a real test, especially when we are observing closely the suffering of female prisoners and detainees.
The situation of these female prisoners who are subjected to abuse and violations of their rights guaranteed by constitution and law indicates the absence of the supervision of the prisons' authorities and their full understanding of the provision of the law which provides for reforming and rehabilitating the prisoners during and after the sentence period. This systematic neglect reflects negatively on the female prisoners' life and social integration of the female ex-prisoners.
Moreover, the civil society organizations play a weak role in monitoring prisons, the absence of studies, and researches on the detention conditions of female prisoners in Yemen amid the war.
Yemen female prisoners who were held for whatever social, political, or intellectual reasons are deprived of the basic life necessities guaranteed by the national and international law. They are also subjected to different types of humiliation and degrading acts under the pretext of applying the instructions and imposing penalties with a complete absence of accountability of prison officials.
"During my work with the Association of Abductees' Mothers, I eye-witnessed the ill-treatment of prison officials."
"I also listened to stories of some female prisoners from one of the Yemeni governorates. I realized that most of them were detained for social grounds, such as family disputes and domestic violence, or economic grounds and poverty, which was on top of them, or political grounds, where many female activists become victims, and their dignity are humiliated."
"One day, I was one of them. I was systematically arrested and questioned inside these prisons. Our dreams and ambitions were lost."
"I hope human rights organizations find successful solutions in the light of the war to address the causes behind committing such violations and put the female prisoners' needs as a priority to eliminate the violence against Yemeni women."

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