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Labour MEP's efforts to get Yemeni woman off death row

A Yemeni woman, Amina Ali Abulatif al Tuhaif, who is on death row in her county for allegedly killing her husband, could be spared her life if efforts by Labour MEP John Attard Montalto are successful.

Her husband's cousin is also on death row for the same alleged murder.

Dr Attard Montalto raised the woman's case in a meeting he had recently with the Yemeni Minister for Human Rights, Khadijah Al-Haisami, while on an official visit as part of a delegation from the European Parliament.

Ms al Tuhaif had been sentenced to death on May 24, 1999. However, according to Yemeni law, she could not be executed because of her age. Moreover, the maximum sentence she could serve was 10 years, which she already has.

Amnesty International, which is also mounting a campaign for her release, says the woman was raped by a prison guard while in al-Mahaweet prison and that she had been tortured but has maintained her innocence throughout.

Her two-year-old child is living with her in Sana'a women's central prison. Ironically, the child had saved her from the firing squad because the law prohibits the execution of pregnant women.

According to Yemeni tribal law, which is very influential there, whether or not a convicted murderer can be spared the death penalty depended on whether her husband's family were prepared to accept blood money in compensation.

In this case, things are a bit more complex as the relatives have already refused an offer of blood money arguing that accepting money for the woman's release would imply they were accepting that the person who had committed the murder was the cousin of Ms al Tuhaif's husband, who was also found guilty together with her.

Her execution was scheduled for May 2, but this was stayed pending a review of her case. The Attorney General in Yemen has appointed a special committee to review her case. The committee will submit its findings on the case to the Attorney General, who will then review her sentence. The Attorney General can recommend that the President reverses or ratifies the death sentence.

In the meeting with the Yemeni human rights minister, Dr Attard Montalto pointed out that from the analysis of the case, there were strong doubts whether the murderer was Ms al Tuhaif or her husband's cousin. He proposed that the family be offered the blood money for both the woman and her husband's cousin and informed the minister he was prepared to pay the compensation personally so that the two people's lives would be spared.

The issue will now be raised again with the murdered husband's family.

There were at least two European countries that were prepared to offer residence and citizenship to Ms al Tuhaif and her children, both the child from the first marriage and a child born as a result of the rape, should she desire to leave Yemen if their lives were in jeopardy, Dr Attard Montalto told the minister.

At the meeting, Dr Attard Montalto also proposed a plan for the adoption of Yemeni orphans. Dr Al-Haisami explained that in Yemen there was an enormous problem of orphaned and street children.

In Europe, married couples who held Islamic beliefs often came across difficulties in adopting children. There is a need for a structured legal framework to give a new home and life to some of the orphans in Yemen with little hope of being raised within a family, the Maltese MEP informed the minister.

Dr Attard Montalto became aware of the problem in Malta when Muslim couples wished to adopt children and he is certain that couples in other parts of Europe were in a similar situation.

The Yemeni minister welcomed Dr Attard Montalto's proposal and said that in Yemen the adoption proposal was possible but she would seek legal advice and inform him of the result.

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