Rashad Yaqoob was detained yesterday morning after he and other lawyers escorted a doctor to the jail in Aden to carry out an independent medical examination of the prisoners. All claim they have been tortured since their arrest on 24 December for alleged involvement in a plot to bomb British targets in Aden.
Mr Yaqoob, who co-ordinated the Justice for the Britons in Yemen Campaign from Britain before going out to help with the men's defence, was arrested at his hotel after having been turned away at the prison.
Friends in the campaign say he has a bad cough and chest infection and that he was initially held in a police cell before being moved to a hospital, where he was being guarded by police. "We are very worried about him. He is quite unwell," said his sister, Salma Chaudary."No official reason has been given but we think they wanted to stop him talking at a press conference which was scheduled for this afternoon."
British diplomats seemed mystified after searching for Mr Yaqoob. The Foreign Office confirmed that David Pearce, the consul in Aden, had visited him in hospital and was due to meet him again. "The British ambassador has been in touch with the Yemeni vice-foreign minister to find out what happened and why. We still do not know," said a Foreign Office spokesman. "It was made very clear that Mr Yaqoob's welfare needs must be met."
Campaign organisers fear he was arrested to stop him publicising his failed prison visit. He was holding a permit from the Yemeni attorney- general, but on arrival at the prison was denied access by the prosecution in the case. He apparently told them that he would expose the situation at a press conference yesterday afternoon.
The trial of the accused men continues, despite claims that confessions were extracted from them by torture. No independent medical examination has taken place, although a report by a Home Office pathologist who only saw them when they appeared in court said he thought they had been tortured.
The first group of arrested men are: Mohsin Ghalain, 18, Malik Nasser Harhra, 26, Ghulam Hussein, 25, Shahid Butt, 33, and Samad Ahmed, 21, and a Frenchman, James Louvres, 30. All deny associating with armed groups, plotting murder and destruction, and illegal possession of weapons.
Another group of Britons has also been arrested and are being put on trial with the others. They are: Mohammed Mustafa Kamel, the 17-year-old son of the north London-based radical Muslim leader Abu Hamza al-Masry, Shaz Nabi, Ayad Hussein and Ali Mohsen.
The defendants have been allegedly linked to Islamic radicals who kidnapped 16 Westerners in December, four of whom died in a shoot-out when Yemeni security forces sought to rescue the hostages.
A spokesman for the campaign last night said that the reasons being given for the arrest were to stop Mr Yaqoob from spreading "lies" about the Yemeni government. At the time of his arrest by armed police officers, however, no reasons were given.
Mr Yaqoob's health had "worsened dramatically" in the hours after he was taken to the police station, the spokesman said.