Yemen court spares life of American Sharif Mobley in alleged killing

Mobley, a former nuclear plant worker from New Jersey detained on terrorism charges, had been facing the death penalty but instead will serve 10 years

A court in Yemen has spared the life of an American man detained on terrorism charges but sentenced him to 10 years in prison for an alleged killing – despite protests from his legal team about lack of evidence.

Sharif Mobley, 32, a former nuclear plant worker from New Jersey, had been facing the death penalty in Yemen, accused of killing a guard in 2010 during an escape attempt after he was snatched from the street and detained on terrorism charges that were later dropped.

His relatives and lawyers from the British human rights advocacy group Reprieve continue to face a wall of silence about his welfare and fundamental aspects of his case, with no evidence presented that there is even a case against him.

But in a surprise decision on Wednesday, news emerged from Yemen that although Mobley had been convicted he had been spared the death penalty, delighting his family back in New Jersey.

“This is such a relief. I was able to call my mother and tell her that after such a long time we had this good news. She wept. We are elated that the judgement went in our favor, at least to a certain extent,” Caamilia Beyah, Mobley’s sister, told the Guardian on Wednesday.

In 2010 Mobley was seized on the streets of the capital Sana’a in circumstances that remain murky but in which the US government has been implicated, according to previous investigations by the Guardian.

Beyah, 36, said on Wednesday the family is still extremely concerned that Mobley is being mistreated in captivity, enduring beatings and shackled with his hands chained to his feet day and night.

He is being held in a notorious prison for political detainees in Sana’a and has had very little access to a lawyer, instead of a criminal facility where he would be allowed more communication with his family and legal team, according to his Reprieve case worker Tim Moore.

Beyah has repeatedly and adamantly denied that her brother had any interest in terrorist causes.

“He is a mild-mannered, peaceful man who is normally full of laughs and jokes. This terrible journey is not over yet,” Beyah said.

Reprieve was expecting a procedural hearing on Wednesday but received the surprise announcement that a judge had sentenced Mobley to 10 years, including the almost six years he has already spent in custody since early 2010.

“There have been so many procedural failings. For 20 months during his detention he disappeared and we had no information where he was. He has never been charged with terrorism and we have never seen a warrant or any evidence presented in court in the homicide case. This conviction is based on such shaky premises that a US court would have thrown it out years ago,” Moore said.

Mobley was tried for murder in a capital case after he allegedly shot and killed a guard and injured others when he attempted to escape from a hospital where he was taken after being shot himself during his capture.

“There has been so much confusion, everything in Yemen is so chaotic and we don’t understand what the laws are there or why he was detained in the first place,” Beyah said.

Beyah and her three other siblings and parents have not seen Mobley since he moved to Yemen six years ago.

He took his wife and children, who are now back in the US, because he wanted the children to learn Arabic and he wanted peacefully to explore his Muslim faith in an Islamic country, Beyah said.

He was initially accused of holding an allegiance to al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula, but all charges were dropped in court in Yemen.

Since then, the US authorities have been accused of abandoning an American trapped in the country and stonewalling requests for information and assistance from his family, despite facilitating the release this fall of other Americans held by Yemeni captors

“He keeps disappearing and we know that he’s being mistreated, although he tries to keep the worst details from us,” said Beyah.

Beyah and advocates at Reprieve are also gravely worried that no matter what prison he is held in in Sana’a, he is in mortal danger from the civil war racking the country and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes that, prior to the current ceasefire, have been pounding the country.


Joanna Walters in New York

The GuardianTramp

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