Sad news came on December 15 from Aden, the port on the southern coast of Yemen. The city had awakened to a day of civil disobedience, called to speed up what Adenis and other southerners hope will be their independence from the central government in Sanaa. As the day’s protests gathered steam, government troops shot and killed Khalid al-Junaydi, popularly known by his Facebook name, Khaled Aden.
As on all mornings of civil disobedience, Khalid had come with his car to Crater, the old part of town, where unarmed activists regularly challenge the troops trying to enter the areas taken over by the peaceful revolution. He always brought his car so that he could use it to transport injured demonstrators to a local clinic. There is no functioning ambulance service in Aden. (See my article in the last issue of Middle East Report for more about Khalid’s role in the protests.)
Stopped by masked soldiers, Khalid was dragged out of his car and taken to an unknown location where he was shot point blank in chest. The troops then drove him to a hospital in another part of town, and dumped his bleeding body at the door. He died there. Amnesty International says the “shocking, deliberate killing appears to be an extrajudicial execution prompted by his peaceful activism.” The London-based human rights organization calls for a full investigation, but thus far in the southerners’ struggle the Yemeni authorities have yet to order such an inquiry in a single case where unarmed demonstrators have been shot.
December 15 was a day of general strike. All schools, markets and places of business in the southern governorates were closed. Aden was filled with tear gas as the troops forced their way into the protesters’ midst.
The declaration of general strike was made at a joint meeting of the recently reestablished southern trade union confederation and groups affiliated with the Southern Movement or hirak. Khalid posted the declaration on Facebook only hours before he was killed.
The purposeful killing of the volunteer ambulance driver poses the question of how brutal the government repression will get. The activist youth, for their part, do not believe that violence will vanquish the hirak. In the words of a short poem that another activist posted on Facebook after Khalid’s death: “It is better once to die a martyr than to have a long life as the living dead!”
At the 2012 G-8 meeting and subsequently, President Barack Obama has suggested that a “Yemen model” of peaceful transfer of power can apply in Syria. Is killing unarmed protesters part of this model, or is it that the world simply does not know what is happening in southern Yemen? Time to wake up, in any case.