Yemen has reportedly released an activist who had led demonstrations against the president after her arrest sparked a renewed wave of protests in Sana’a.
30-year old Tawakul Abdul Salam Karman, a journalist and member of the Islamist party Islah, was detained last Saturday night. She was then released on a guarantee from her family, the Reuters news agency reported on Monday.
Karman is one of most out-spoken defenders of press freedom, human rights, and the freedom of women in Yemen, in addition to being a writer, journalist and activist in the field of human rights and the head of the Sana’a-based social advocacy organization “Women Journalists Without Chains.”
She contributed to writing several reports about press freedom and corruption in Yemen, in which she encouraged national reconciliation, fundamental reforms, and religious renewal.
She had declared as recently as last week, “I know they will shut down my organization if I continue. Then they will arrest me. They will also probably kill me in prison. But I won’t stop. I am determined.”
Although she had received a variety of threats, she paid no heed to them, all the way up until her arrest. She had led many sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations hold every week in the yard of al-Hurriyah, named by a group of human rights activists in Yemen. It is a place where many journalists, civil society activists, politicians typically hold weekly gatherings to demand their usurped rights.
Security authorities arrested Karman in the capital Sana’a late on Saturday evening. She is a member of the Shura Council of the opposition Islah party and is the head of the Organization of Women Journalists Without Chains. In recent days, she was accused of carrying out demonstrations in solidarity with the popular uprising in Tunisia, and demonstrating for the sake of the political change in Yemen.
She was also accused of criticizing the totalitarian rule of Arab rulers and calling on Yemenis to overthrow President Ali Abdullah Saleh through a campaign of text messages and e-mails inspired by the recent protests which toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidin ben Ali.
Eyewitnesses said that Karman was detained by police wearing civilian clothes while she walked on a central Sana’a street while she was on her way home with her husband, Mohammed Ismail al- Nehmi.
Lubna al-Qadasi, an activist with “Women Journalists Without Chains” said, “the charge of the arrest supposedly involve ‘organizing illegal demonstrations.’ Tawakul’s whereabouts had been unknown, and the reason for her arrest has still not been officially announced.”
For days before her arrest, dozens of activists had protested daily at Sana’a University for the second week in a row, demanding president Saleh’s overthrow, and now Karman’s arrest has been added to the grievances of the persistent demonstrations.
Her detention created tremendous protests on Sunday, as police and security forces clashed violently with dozens of demonstrators.
Eyewitnesses reported that police forces severely beat activists and demonstrators. The traffic police attacked them, protestors reported, pointing out that the police tried to disperse the demonstrators with batons.
Protesters, activists, and journalists were subsequently arrested, the most prominent of whom was lawyer Khaled al-Ansi, the executive director of Hood Organization and Ali al-Dailami, Executive Director of the Yemeni Organization for Defending Human Rights Journalists’ syndicate.
The Journalists’ Union issued a statement in which they declared, “we will face all the reckless actions of the security apparatus against press and journalists.”
In response to the wave of arrests, two hundred demonstrators marched from the journalists’ Syndicate to the central prosecution office. A member of the General Committee of the ruling GPC condemned the arrest of Kerman and pointed out that the move was against the constitution, law, and customs of Yemen, while the opposition JMP considered it a crime and warned of dire consequences.
A spokesman of JMP, Muhammad al-Qubati, claimed, “the detention of Kerman is a criminal offense.”
For their part, civil society organizations described the detention as “an offensive terrorist act –the kidnapping is a deliberate plan organized by the security apparatus in Yemen.
A statement of the Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms declared, “This action will not deter throngs of various groups and social classes from continuing their demands for peaceful change and exposing the repressive policies of the authorities and the government bodies.”
The authorities, from their side warned organizations or any political party against conducting “illegal marches or demonstrations’ unless they received an official permit in advance.
The Yemeni Interior Minister, Al-Masri, in a statement issued by the state-run Yemeni News Agency “Saba” on Sunday, claimed that political parties and organizations are entitled to their constitutional rights and freedom of speech, but “not to confront security forces; we will continue applying the laws and regulations. Yemen is democratic, pluralistic and allows freedom of opinion,” he concluded.