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Yemen: Lethal Force Against Southern Protesters
Human Rights Watch
13 March 2014

(Sanaa) – Yemeni security forces apparently used excessive lethal force against peaceful demonstrators in Aden on February 20 and 21, 2014. The government should promptly, impartially, and thoroughly investigate the incident, which left one protester dead and five wounded, and hold all those responsible for abuses to account.
State security and military forces unnecessarily used teargas and live ammunition against supporters of the Southern Movement (Hirak), an umbrella group seeking independence or greater autonomy for southern Yemen, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Reports of excessive use of force by security forces against southern protesters have declined since the change of government in February 2012, but the government’s record of investigating incidents remains poor, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Yemeni government needs to investigate why people were killed and wounded at an apparently peaceful protest,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Given the failure to investigate similar past incidents, it’s crucial for the government to make its findings public and to hold accountable any security officers who used excessive force.”

A media officer for the protesters, Salah Mothana Abdullah, 37, told Human Rights Watch thatat least 5000 Hirak supporters gathered in the central al-`Orod Square in the Khur Maksar neighborhood of Aden on February 20, 2014, for two days of demonstrations. He said they were protesting the proposal by the recently concluded National Dialogue to create a federal system made up of six states in Yemen. Three protesters and a bystander told Human Rights Watch that the protesters appeared unarmed and did not resort to any violence until after the government crackdown the following afternoon. The government has not issued a statement on the incident.

Abdullah and another witness said that on the first day, state security and military forces increased their presence both on foot and in armored military and security vehicles in the streets of Khur Maksar. Abdullah said:
I was in a shop in the square on Thursday afternoon and saw three military vehicles, two [military] Special Security Force vehicles and one General Security vehicle, parked in the square.… At around 5 p.m., I noticed four snipers on the rooftop of the former Ethiopian Embassy, facing the square. Their faces were masked.The first demonstration was planned for that evening.
People started to approach the square, and got to around 15 meters from the Special Security Forces. I counted at least 60 [soldiers/personnel], most of them not visibly carrying guns, but carrying batons, teargas canisters, and canister launchers. I saw around 12 of them who were carrying guns shooting live rounds into the air, and three or four took aim directly at the protesters.
Abd al-Khaliq Mothana, 40, a local freelance journalist, told Human Rights Watch that at about 6 p.m. “at least 100 protesters were carrying out the evening prayer in the street, when soldiers suddenly started throwing teargas canisters at them.” He said that at about 10:30 p.m. he saw soldiers fire live ammunition toward a crowd of protesters gathered next to Ahl al-Bait Mosque, near the square. Visibility was difficult because it was dark, he said, and the security forces continued to fire teargas into the crowd. Two protesters standing about 7 meters from him were wounded by gunfire, one in the abdomen and the other in the right hand.

Despite the crackdown, protesters continued to gather in the square throughout the night, only dispersing at 3 a.m. Some gathered in a neighboring square but were not pursued by security forces.

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