Women protesting the Yemeni government last week were brutally beat down by female security forces after the protestors demanded to know what happened to their missing family members. According to the women, hundreds of their male family members living in south Yemen have been snatched up by the government in the last year and never heard from again. These disappearances are what the women are concerned about, but the policewomen made it clear that their requests for information would continuously be met with violence.
In the rally that was being held near a troop headquarters of the United Arab Emirates, women could be heard shouting “Oh coalition, where are our sons?” The UAE and Saudi Arabia joined the civil war in favor of the Yemeni government, forming a coalition against the Houthi rebels. The women blame the coalition and the militia for taking their family members away.
Activists at the rally recounted that some policewomen ripped off one protestor’s niqab, which is the veil that covers the whole face and is worn by conservative Muslim women, and began punching her repeatedly in the face. Two other women were allegedly detained and interrogated, according to the activists, who wished to remain anonymous as they fear retribution in such a volatile environment.
“Our sons and brothers vanished,” one teacher told AP in a phone interview. “For a year, we know nothing about them.”
The 34-year-old teacher was speaking from personal experience, as her own brother and uncle were snatched from the streets last August. She said that her brother was a university student, but that he also fought with a southern faction that was backed by the coalition. Since the abduction, her family has learned the whereabouts of her uncle, but has heard nothing about her brother. Her uncle is reportedly in Aden’s central prison, where the coalition has its own section for terror suspects.
The Associated Press ran an investigation last year and discovered that there was a network of secret prisons run by the UAE and other loyal forces in which those suspected of terrorism were picked up, illegally arrested, held in the prisons, and tortured. Yemeni families and former families confirmed that torture occurs at the hands of the coalition and that most of the men being picked up are suspected of belonging to the al-Qaida branch in Yemen. Of course, the UAE denies the presence of such prisons.
When men first began disappearing last year, protests were held almost every week by women expressing their discontent and demanding they know the whereabouts of the missing men in their lives. Despite facing threats and intimidation from the coalition and the government, the women have held strong and some have even obtained answers about their particular family member. However, most of the men are still unaccounted for while the government remains silent.
“We went to the presidency, to the coalition, and to the security chief, but no one is talking to us,” the teacher-protester said. “The militias are running the country.”
As though being in the middle of a civil war and mysteriously losing family members isn’t enough, the war has brought great tragedy to the nation as it implodes. The country’s economy is in ruins, approximately 10,000 people have died as a result of the war, and over 3 million people have been displaced. Famine has become an epidemic and cholera has begun to run rampant; over 300,000 cases have been reported and more than 1,700 people have died of the disease since April alone. As the country falls apart, what its remaining citizens need more than anything is their family, something which the coalition and the Yemeni government are denying them through violence and silencing.