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04 October 2023

Yemen amends draft immunity law

A woman displays a message written on her hand with the colours of the national flag of Yemen during a demonstration to demand the trial of Yemen's outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on Tuesday. The message reads, "Trial!" (REUTERS)

By Reuters

A Yemeni draft law granting immunity to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh from prosecution over the killing of protesters was amended on Thursday to limit the protection his aides would enjoy, a minister said.

The draft law, which has been heavily criticised by rights groups, the United Nations and Yemeni protesters, will now shield the aides only in "political cases", Legal Affairs Minister Mohammad Makhlafi told Reuters.

It had previously offered blanket immunity to associates of Saleh, who will still get full protection himself, Makhlafi said, without elaborating on what kinds of cases could be tried.

Under a power transfer plan hammered out by Yemen's wealthier Gulf neighbours and signed by Saleh in November, the veteran leader was promised legal immunity to help ease him out of office and end months of protests against his 33-year rule.

Yemenis angry at the draft law are still taking to the streets calling for Saleh to be put on trial and United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay earlier this month warned the immunity offer could violate international law.

Discussion of the law in parliament has repeatedly been put off, but Makhlafi said it would now take place on Saturday.

The United States has defended the draft law as the only way to coax Saleh from power, but question marks remain over his intentions after he reversed a pledge to leave Yemen before presidential elections in February.

Washington and Saudi Arabia are keen for the plan to work, fearing protracted political upheaval will let Al Qaeda's regional Yemen-based wing establish a foothold along oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.

Islamist militants earlier this week seized the town of Radda, about 170 km southeast of the capital Sanaa, underscoring those concerns.  Saleh's opponents have accused him of deliberately ceding territory to Islamists to drive home his argument that his rule alone keeps Al Qaeda, whose Yemeni wing has plotted abortive attacks abroad, from growing stronger.