Yemen imposes curfew, frees low-risk inmates

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has ordered provincial governors to take tough measures to prevent the spread of the disease in their provinces. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Yemen imposes curfew, frees low-risk inmates

  • At least five Yemeni provinces have begun releasing dozens of prisoners to protect them from the illness

AL-MUKALLA: Local authorities in Yemen’s southeastern Hadramout province have imposed a curfew in major cities as the country steps up its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The move came as other regions began releasing low-risk prisoners to help protect prisons from an outbreak of the virus.

Maj. Gen. Faraj Al-Bahsani, Hadramout’s governor, said that he was forced to impose the curfew after people ignored appeals to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

The streets of Al-Mukalla and neighboring cities appeared empty as police and military vehicles roamed major roads to monitor the curfew from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Despite having not recorded a single case of the virus, at least five Yemeni provinces have begun releasing dozens of prisoners to protect them from the illness.

Authorities in Hadramout, Mahra, Shabwa and Dhalae have released 200, 49, 43 and 34 prisoners, respectively. All had completed the bulk of their sentences or were low-risk inmates. Officials said the release of the prisoners will ease crowded prisons and help isolate the remaining prisoners.

Since early last month, Yemen’s internationally recognized government has ordered provincial governors to take tough measures to prevent the spread of the disease in their provinces.

Yemen has shut down borders, and closed airports, schools and mosques as vital medical supplies have begun arriving in the country. Several quarantine facilities have been established in Aden, Haramout, Shabwa and Mahra, Sanaa, Baydha and other provinces.

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Maj. Gen. Faraj Al-Bahsani, Hadramout’s governor, said that he was forced to impose the curfew after people ignored appeals to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

But critics have questioned the effectiveness of the measures without cooperation between local authorities across the country.

While Hadramout imposes an overnight curfew, markets and shops in neighboring provinces are still bustling with people.

Other governors appeared reluctant to shut down qat markets that attract thousands of people daily.

Fatehi Ben Lazreq, editor of Aden Al-Ghad newspaper, criticized the lack of regional cooperation.

“Each governor has his own legislation,” he told Arab News on Thursday. “The central government is weak and absent.”

He warned that without tougher regulations and cooperation between health offices across Yemen, the disease could overwhelm the country’s fragile health system.

Despite the arrival of medical supplies in the past two weeks, local health workers have complained about a shortage of protective gear.

Doctors, nurses and health workers at Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla staged a protest outside the facility on Thursday, demanding more personal protective items and claiming that current supplies will run out within two weeks.

The hospital, one of the biggest in Yemen, offers health services to the provinces of Hadramout, Mahra and Shabwa.

Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s manager, told Arab News that he has alerted local health authorities and the World Health Organization office in Yemen to the scarcity of protective equipment at the hospital.

“I am waiting for those items to arrive,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yemeni activists have launched a social media campaign to pressure warring factions in Yemen to release prisoners, warning that poor conditions in prisons make them breeding grounds for the virus.

Under #SaveYemeniPrisoners, the activists urged rival Yemeni groups to honor their commitments to release prisoners under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement.

“With one voice, all human rights activists inside and outside Yemen say release the detainees before it is too late,” Hooria Mashhour, a former human rights minister, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Mashhour said that she is taking part in the campaign as part of efforts to secure the release of hundreds of Yemeni activists, politicians and journalists detained in the past five years.

“If this epidemic enters Yemen, it will be a catastrophe for all Yemenis. It will severely affect prisoners and detainees who are crammed into dungeons that lack the most basic health standards,” she said.


Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

Updated 26 May 2020

Russian mediation reopens major highway in NE Syria

  • Syria records 20 new cases of coronavirus in largest single-day increase

BEIRUT/DAMASCUS: Traffic returned to a major highway in northeastern Syria for the first time in seven months on Monday, following Russian mediation to reopen parts of the road captured last year by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Syrian Kurdish media and a Syrian Kurdish official said several vehicles accompanied by Russian troops began driving in the morning between the northern towns of Ein Issa and Tal Tamr. 

The two towns are controlled by regime forces and Syrian Kurdish fighters while the area between them is mostly held by Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters captured parts of the highway known as M4 in October, when Ankara invaded northeastern Syria to drive away Syrian Kurdish fighters. The M4 links Syria’s coastal region all the way east to the Iraqi border.

Four convoys will drive on the M4 every day with two leaving from Tal Tamr and two from Ein Issa, according to the Kurdish ANHA news agency. The report said a convoy will leave from each town at 8 a.m., and another set of convoys will do the same, three hours later.

The ANHA agency added that the opening of the highway will shorten the trip between the two towns as people previously had to take roundabout, side roads.

“This is the first time the road has been opened” since October, said Mervan Qamishlo, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Russia, a main power broker with Turkey in Syria, mediated the deal to reopen the highway, he said. Russia and Turkey back rival groups in Syria’s nine-year conflict.

Coronavirus cases

Syria reported 20 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, the largest single-day increase to date.

The war-torn country has recorded 106 infections and four deaths so far, and new cases have increased in recent days with the return of Syrians from abroad.

Syria has kept an overnight curfew in place but has begun to open some of its economy after a lockdown. Doctors and relief groups worry that medical infrastructure ravaged by years of conflict would make a more serious outbreak deadly and difficult to fend off.