UN issues urgent action over disappearance of US citizen in Yemen

May 15, 2014

Image of Barbed wire

A United Nations body that tracks disappearance cases has issued an Urgent Action concerning a US citizen who went missing from a Yemeni prison earlier this year.

Sharif Mobley, from New Jersey, was last seen by his lawyer in a hearing in Sana’a’s Western court on 19 February 2014. Staff from legal charity Reprieve then spoke to him through a fence of Sana’a’s central prison on 27 February. When they returned three weeks later, they were told that Mr Mobley had been transferred to another location – but all attempts to trace him have failed.

Mr Mobley’s lawyers at Reprieve wrote to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on 30 April requesting their intervention. Yesterday, 14 May, the UN informed Reprieve that they are investigating Mr Mobley’s enforced disappearance and have sent an Urgent Action to Yemen and the United States.

The UN is calling on Yemen and the US to take ‘appropriate measures’ to ensure that the disappeared person is not deprived arbitrarily to their liberty and right to fair legal proceedings. It is used for cases where a person “may be detained arbitrarily” and where the person may be in a “life-threatening situation”.

Mr Mobley’s disappearance is the latest development in an ordeal that began in January 2010, when he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen from outside his house in Sana’a, shot in the leg and held incommunicado for several months.

While in secret detention he was violently interrogated by two US agents who called themselves ‘Matt from FBI and Khan from DOD’. Logs released under a Freedom of Information request indicate that US agents interrogated Mr Mobley repeatedly during this period. He was also threatened with further abuse (including rape and the rape of his wife) and beaten so badly he had to be re-hospitalized.

In late 2010 all terrorism charges against Mr Mobley were dropped, and he was moved to a civilian prison to face murder charges relating to the death of a Yemeni police officer in the course of an alleged escape attempt. The judge in the trial is currently deliberating on the legality of Mr Mobley’s original arrest and detention.

Mr Mobley’s disappearance came on the eve of a court hearing at which Mr Mobley’s Yemeni lawyer was due to present extensive evidence on the US authorities’ role in his original disappearance.

Cori Crider, Sharif’s lawyer and Strategic Director at Reprieve, said: “We hope this will finally push the Yemeni and US authorities to produce Sharif from whatever dungeon he has been taken to. For seventy-five days we have been stonewalled – by the Yemenis, and by the US Embassy – but surely they wouldn’t stonewall the UN. How can we have any confidence that Sharif will get a fair trial in Yemen when they keep hiding him from his counsel?”

Nzinga Mobley, Sharif Mobley’s wife who lives in Philadelphia with their children, said: “I am pleased that the UN is taking my husband’s disappearance seriously. It is long past time that the government of Yemen and that of his own beloved country, the United States, did the same. My children and I are desperately worried about him and can think of nothing other than finding him. Please, President Hadi and President Obama, tell me where my husband is.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s Press Office on: katherine.oshea@reprieve.org / +1 (917) 855 8064 in the US, or: clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8161 in the UK.

2. The full letter to the UN Working Group is available upon request.

3. For more information about Sharif’s case, please see here.