Yemen is accused of torture

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AT LEAST 23 members of the former National Democratic Front are still being held as political prisoners in the northern part of Yemen and some have been incarcerated for more than 10 years, according to the human rights organisation, Amnesty International, writes Charles Richards.

Amnesty has adopted one of them, Mansur Rajih, as a prisoner of conscience. The 34-year-old poet was arrested in June 1983. He was tried and sentenced to death for murder. During the first two to three years in detention, he was subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment. Amnesty believes he is innocent.

The NDF was founded in February 1976 as a result of the merger of six different organisations. It was supported by the Marxist government of what was then south Yemen. It became the main opposition group to the government in north Yemen, and by 1979 was engaged in a guerrilla war against the government.

In 1982, the governments of north and south Yemen signed an agreement, allowing for a truce. After north and south Yemen unified in 1990, the NDF dissolved itself and officially became part of the Yemeni Socialist Party, the ruling party in what was south Yemen. However, NDF members are still detained.

Amnesty said that in April and May 1992, some 27 members of the NDF were released, and their sentences quashed by presidential decree. But the organisation continues to be concerned that many political prisoners were denied legal counsel, and had been severely tortured.