1960-1969 | Detention without trial | Torture | Yemen

a state of emergency declared in Aden – detainees tortured

Kennedy Trevaskis in 1963 –
© NPG x185742

10 December 1963

On 10 December 1963, Britain’s high commissioner, Kennedy Trevaskis, declared a state of emergency in Yemen in order to crush a nationalist insurgency against British rule. Within hours, the British army was rounding up dozens of trade union officials and members of Yemen’s People’s Socialist Party.1 The emergency laws gave Trevaskis and his successor, Sir Richard Turnbull, the authority to order the detention of individuals for an indefinite period without trial subject only to six monthly reviews by a ‘special tribunal.’ The Emergency Laws were condemned by the United Nations, the Arab League and the International Labour Organisation.2

During the initial period following their arrest, suspects would usually be kept isolated for lengthy periods, often exceeding a month before being transferred to detention centres, where the most appalling forms of torture were used to extract confessions.  In 1966, after interviewing former detainees and the relatives of those still being held, Amnesty International listed the most common forms of abuse inflicted on political prisoners [see also 18 December 1965]. These included

  1. Undressing the detainees and making them stand naked during interrogation.
  2. Keeping them naked in super-cooled cells with air conditioners and fans running at the highest speed.
  3. keeping them awake by irritating them until they are exhausted.
  4. Offering food to hungry prisoners and removing it just as they start eating.
  5. Forcing the detainees to sit on poles directed towards their anus.
  6. Hitting and twisting their genital organs.
  7. Extinguishing cigarettes on their skin.
  8. Forcing them to run in circles until they are exhausted.
  9. Banning visits to lavatories so that they soil their cells with faeces and urine.
  10. Keeping them in filthy toilets with the floor covered with urine and faeces.3


  1. Aaron Edwards, Mad Mitch’s Tribal Law: Aden and the End of Empire, Penguin, London, 2015, pp. 61-62.
  2. S. Rastgeldi ‘Amnesty International Aden Report,’ accessed online at https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/204000/mde270021966eng.pdf
  3. Ibid, p. 10.

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