Inmates riot at Yemen prison

Unconfirmed reports of deaths and injuries after security forces open fire on inmates protesting against the president.

    Protests demanding an end to Saleh's rule have been raging across Yemen for more than a month now [Reuters]

    Detainees in one of Yemen's largest prisons say that they are in solidarity with protesters who have been calling for the ouster of president Ali Abdullah Saleh, following a day of riots within the compounds walls.

    A number of prisoners gathered in the prison's interior courtyard on Monday chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime", prompting security forces to open fire with tear gas and live ammunition.

    At least three prisoners in the Sanaa facility were reported killed and four others injured, Sharif Mobley, an inmate, told Al Jazeera via phone from within the prison.

    "At the moment there is no violence, there is no fighting," Mobley said on Tuesday morning, "but the situation is really looking very bad".

    "The offices of the prison official have been burned down and the guards have all left and are now outside," he said.

    "Authorities are outside the prison gates and we are inside the prison. We don't want to make any problems and are afraid for our lives."

    Political uprising?

    Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Sanaa, said the prison is one of the largest incarceration facilities in the Arabian peninsula nation.

    "The security forces responded by firing tear gas canisters and gunshots were also heard. There is now a security presence outside the facility. We are told the situation is contained but authorities have not confirmed any deaths."

    Ahelbarra said that officials are claiming that this revolt has nothing to do with the political situation in Yemen.

    However, prisoners are saying that they are "unhappy with the direction the country is going in", Mobley said.

    "The main demand from the prisoners is they want justice and they want to be treated equally. They complain that if you don't have money and if you don't have ties to strong tribes, then you stay in prison," he said.

    US-Yemen operations

    Mobley stressed that he was not a part of the uprising, and was being wrongfully held. He was arrested early last year, and his lawyers allege that he was abducted by Yemeni security agents operating on behalf of the US government.

    Sharif Mobley, a US citizen, spoke to Al Jazeera from the prison in Sanaa

    Legal documents seen by Al Jazeera paint a disturbing picture of shadowy security co-operation between the US and Yemen. The documents were part of a freedom of information request submitted by Mobley's legal team to US authorities.

    "I'm not taking part in the riots - I am an American citizen and will just tell you what I am seeing here," Mobley said.

    "My embassy is not helping me and I have heard that Americans were told to leave the country."

    The US state department issued a warning to American citizens last week, urging them not to travel to Yemen, and those in the country already "to think about leaving it".

    "The security threat level in Yemen is very high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest," a statement said.

    Demonstrations across Yemen demanding an end to Saleh's presidency have left at least 27 people dead since late January, according to a toll by Amnesty International, the London-based rights group.

    Scores have also been wounded in the violence.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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