Leaked documents reveal it’s state policy to kidnap & dispose of protesters’ bodies in mass graves

May 17, 2011

Prominent human rights attorney Khaled Alanesi says it is now state policy to kidnap dead and injured protesters in an effort to conceal crimes committed against peaceful demonstrators. I met with Alanesi in his tent today, located inside Taghyeer “Change” Square, the name given to the area outside of Sana’a University. Thousands of protesters have set up tents there and plan on remaining until Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s ruler of 33 years, steps down.

Alanesi is working with HOOD, a human rights NGO based in Yemen, to build a case against Saleh to present to the international community. In a major press conference held yesterday at Change Square, a spokesman for HOOD announced that they were in possession of leaked government documents which show that dozens of corpses of protesters were buried in mass graves and disposed of in trash bins throughout the Beit Bous area of Sana’a.

According to Alanesi, this became normal protocol for Saleh’s security forces soon after the March 18 demonstration, now known as Bloody Friday. On that day, fifty-two demonstrators were gunned down by police and snipers during a peaceful demonstration after they had finished completing the Friday prayers. Saleh’s regime faced severe international backlash for the incident. Since then, protesters have gone missing after each organized march.

HOOD is currently conducting interviews with eyewitnesses. Some of these testimonials belong to medical personnel who work at the Military hospital, which is run by Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali . Others come from demonstrators who hid during the kidnappings. What they all reveal is that Saleh’s security forces are engaged in a deadly game of deception.

Alanesi notes that the regime has been quick to exploit differences among the opposition groups. The existence of a power-struggle between the youth bloc and opposition organizers is widely known. Their disagreements range from the role of women in protests to whether a march should be held on a particular day. One such disagreement ended with the disappearance of dozens of protesters.

On April 9, the youth decided to march against the wishes of opposition organizers. Alanesi says on that evening, government agents dressed in civilian clothes approached the youth pretending to be protesters. “They told the youth that organizers were hijacking their movement. We have a formal committee that has to approve all demonstrations. These infiltrators were telling them that they had no control. They were being manipulated.”

About five hundred youth decided to march that night at the encouragement of these agents. They marched toward an area called Kentucky round. Once there, they found policemen along with state-funded thugs known as “baltajia” waiting for them. They, along with the undercover agents trapped protesters from both ends of the juncture. What happened next would set the precedent for how security forces would conduct themselves at later demonstrations.

Having trapped protesters, Saleh’s men shut off the electricity to the area. When the lights went out, the bloodshed began. Officers opened fire on trapped protesters. As the dead and injured fell, bodies were grabbed into unmarked cars and immediately driven away. When protesters failed to return home that night, some of the families headed to Change Square to look for their loved ones but got no straight answers.

Alanesi says he received a call from a doctor who worked at the Military hospital a few days after the ambush. The doctor confirmed that dozens of corpses and injured protesters were brought to the hospital the night of April 9th. Over the next few days, more doctors would contact Alanesi and HOOD describing what they witnessed. Some said injured protesters were being beaten. “Doctors would take injured protesters and place them in emergency rooms even if their injuries were minor because they wanted to protect them from the officers.”

Doctors revealed that corpses were being brought to the hospital with mutilated faces to the point where corpses were beyond recognition. Unable to identify the dead, medical personnel would fill in “unknown” on death certificates. Bodies would then be taken to a mortuary and from there, placed in mass graves. Other corpses were dismembered and disposed of in garbage bins.

Soon people began to talk. Beit Bous residents were making grim discoveries of body parts in their wells and garbage bins, and more and more eyewitnesses were coming forward. Sources from the makeshift hospital tell me that ambulances were now showing up with the baltajia at demonstrations. According to Alanesi, ambulances are normally sent by the Science and Technology hospital. But protesters were saying that they did not recognize these ambulances. There were also cars showing up with the insignia of the Red Crescent and missing license plates. They would wait for the injured and dead to fall and then drive the bodies away. Alanesi confirmed that the Red Crescent does not have any vehicles in Yemen.

HOOD has so far released one government document written by a prosecutor to his superior. Dated April 27, it requests an investigation into the remains discovered in Beit Bous. On the same document, the director responds with a rejection, stating that bodies had already been buried. According to Alanesi, the speed with which Yemeni authorities disposed of bodies and the fact that no autopsies were conducted point to a cover-up. “This is not standard procedure, to bury bodies without conducting an investigation. They were trying to cover up crimes.”

HOOD is calling for an independent investigation by the United Nations. Last week, the UN agreed to send a mission to Yemen to investigate state violence against protesters. According to Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Saleh tried to postpone their arrival until June. “They suggested we visit at the end of June; we would like to go rather earlier than that, and we stand ready to deploy as soon as we can.” Alanesi believes Saleh is biding time in order to get rid of evidence and with the hopes that a favorable deal will be reached granting him full legal immunity.

Some of the families of victims say that since the UN announcement, they’ve been approached by Yemeni authorities who are asking them to waive an investigation in exchange for monetary compensation.

Meanwhile, activists announced this month a plan to to escalate their demonstration activities. Eighteen cities and towns have launched a civil disobedience campaign. Closures of schools, shops and government buildings are planned twice weekly until Saleh steps down. The decision to escalate protests comes at the heel of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s recent meeting in Riyadh, which failed to come up with a resolution. The GCC has been trying to mediate between Saleh and the opposition for months now. Qatar recently pulled out of the GCC initiative, blaming Saleh for the stalemate.

In Sana’a, the first phase of the escalation plan was met with deadly force. At least ten protesters were killed in a march towards the government’s offices on May 11. Hundreds more were injured by live rounds and tear gas. The makeshift hospital became overwhelmed with casualties and appealed to local hospitals to help with the injured. The US released a statement the next day condemning the violence and insisting that Saleh agree to a transition plan immediately.

“This transition must begin immediately in order for the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations for a brighter, more prosperous and democratic future,” spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Saleh’s response the next day was a vow to “confront a challenge with a challenge.” In a speech, he warned the opposition to “stop playing with fire.”

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One Response to “Leaked documents reveal it’s state policy to kidnap & dispose of protesters’ bodies in mass graves”


  1. […] HOOD, a local human rights NGO, recently revealed that it was state policy to carry away the bodies of dead and injured protesters in an effort to conceal crimes against protesters. They are in possession of leaked documents and have been collecting eyewitness testimony from victims and informants to build a case against Saleh. You can read more on that story here. […]


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