Access is denied to Britons in Yemen

THE YEMENI authorities were back-tracking yesterday on a promised medical examination of five Britons and an Algerian, on trial in Aden for allegedly planning a bombing campaign.

In court, earlier in the week, the accused men shouted from the dock that they had been systematically tortured by methods that included electric shocks, beatings on the feet, suspension, sexual abuse and sleep deprivation.

Dr Saddaf Alam a GP from Manchester, who specialises in treating the after-effects of torture, expected to be allowed into Aden central prison after the judge in charge of the case said that a foreign medical specialist could be present while a Yemeni doctor examined the men. But Dr Alam said yesterday: "It does not look good. Everything the judge promised has been retracted."

At first, the prosecutor had seemed willing to let him see the group, arrested in Aden on 24 December, but later changed his mind. Dr Alam added: "If they have nothing to hide why are they doing this?"

Dr Alam said that Sirmad Ahmed, 21, and Mohsin Ghalain, 18, both students, appeared to have been singled out for especially harsh treatment. They told family members of other prisoners who visited them after the first day of their trial, that they had both been stripped naked and sexually abused. They said their thumbs "were pressed to a metal bar for 20 seconds at a time" and they were given electric shocks.

The investigators may have focused on the two because Mr Ghalain is the stepson of Abu Hamza al Masri - the militant Islamic sheikh from Finsbury Park, north London - and Mr Ahmed is believed by the Yemeni authorities to belong to Mr Masri's group, the Supporters of the Sharia (Islamic Law). During the trial Mr Ahmed said: "They have been treating us like animals."

The worst torture, according to the men's account, appears to have occurred in the first days after the men were arrested. They were forced to stand against a wall for five days and beaten if they fell asleep or moved. Malek Nasser Harhara, a student in computer studies from Birmingham, was trussed up with a bar under his knees and was beaten on the feet.

But the beatings have continued throughout their imprisonment. When the group went to sign confessions in the prosecutor's office, they say they were told: "If you change a word in the document, you will get worse than you got before." They say that each of the confessions is a combination of statements they were forced to sign earlier without reading, and in some cases they were blindfold at the time.

The five Britons say they were seen by a Yemeni doctor, but his examination consisted of asking them: "Are you OK?" Dr Alam suspects the investigators may want the worst signs of torture to disappear before they allow the prisoners to be seen by an independent medical expert.

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