October 8, 2012 http://www.yementimes.com/
Seeing his fifteen-year-old son Mohammed facing capital punishment, Taher Samoom tries hard to hide his sorrow.
Tears roll down his cheeks when telling Mohammed’s story.
“Mohammed was playing with a Kalashnikov and unintentionally fired it, shooting his companion dead,” Taher Samoon said.
Now, the father is worried because the judge who issued the verdict sentencing his son to death didn’t take his age at the time of the crime into consideration.
Based on Article 31 of Yemeni law, a juvenile is less than the age to bear responsibility for a crime if he is not yet 15 years old at the time of the crime. However, juveniles between the ages of 15 and 18 could be imprisoned for three to 10 years.
Although the article is clear, some courts ignore it and issue illegal verdicts to children, Ahmed Al-Qershi, head of the Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection (Seyaj), said.
He said that some judges commit huge violations when investigating juveniles and consequently sentence them to death without providing enough conditions for a fair trial.
Mohammed was sent to prison at age 10, and a death sentence was issued at age 13. However, today, he is still alive because Seyaj and several other civil society organizations intervened.
Seyaj defines itself as a nonprofit specializing in the defense of children’s rights.
“Two years ago, Mohammed was ordered to prepare for the punishment and was taken to a square, but the person assigned to carry out the verdict suffered from severe illness and was taken to a hospital; consequently, the punishment was delayed,” Al-Qershi said.
“On that day, we came to know about the 13-year-old Mohammed, and immediately, along with several civil society organizations, we contacted the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council and were able to stop implementing the verdict.”
Mohammed is 15 years old now and remains imprisoned in Ibb governorate. Al-Qershi said Mohammed could be sentenced to death any moment now, pointing out that civil society organizations were able to stop implementing the verdict but couldn’t drop it completely.
A mutual fate
Mohammed isn’t the only juvenile to face the possibility of capital punishment. There are many others.
According to Al-Qershi, as many as 170 juveniles imprisoned throughout Yemen, and they could be sentenced to death at any time.
Ibraheem Al-Omaisi’s mother speaks painfully about the story of her 15-year-old son who was sentenced to death several months ago because he was found guilty of a murder two years ago.
She said her son is innocent, but he accompanied two people who carried out the murder. She said the two guilty persons are adults who were sentenced to death, but her son is a juvenile, and the verdict against him is illegal.
Many juveniles are stuck in prisons nationwide, experiencing difficult living situations.
Akram Noman, a lawyer, said many of these children are subject to injustice in the courts and sentenced to death.
He said juveniles lose their lives because of injustice and the absence of the appropriate implementation of the law.
Local and international solidarity
Al-Qershi said that since the establishment of the organization, it has worked to oppose capital punishment sentences for juveniles. He said the organization has been successful in terms of this issue. Deferring the sentences against Mohammed Tahir Samoom and Waleed Haikal are examples, he said.
“We strive to implement the law, and the organization is not one-sided,” he said. “It is to side with truth and justice. Anyone proved to be over 18, the capital sentence must be executed. In case of suspicion about the age, it is in the favor of these juveniles.”
Al-Qershi referred to the story of Haikal who was jailed in the Central Prison in Sana’a at the age of 16 and spent 12 years in prison. Now he is 28.
He said Haikal was subjected to torture and abuse until said he was 18.
“He then stood trial, and the case reached the High Court; the capital sentence was issued.”
Al-Qershi said Seyaj obtained documents proving Haikal committed the crime when he was 16, which means he cannot be handed a death sentence. He said he sent many messages to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the former minister of justice. He was able to delay the execution.
“However, the problem is that Haikal still languishes in jail, and the verdict issued against him has not been revoked.”
Opposing capital punishment for juveniles has not solely been the business of local Yemeni organizations; Human Rights Watch has played a role as well.
Lita Kiler, an HRW activist in Yemen, said the organization is concerned about the execution of juveniles in Yemen, indicating that she visited Yemen in March with two experts of the organization. She met with some relatives of the incriminated juveniles, asserting that she called on the government to stop sentencing juveniles to death.
“The organization exercises some pressure on western governments to lobby the Yemeni government to quit issuing such verdicts.”
She said she will continue promoting this issue by calling on the Yemeni government to make sure young people are at least 18 before sentencing them to death.