From Riches to Rags

As the war in Yemen turned her wheel of fortune, Anhar found herself in jail

BY Yasser Rayes

The hardships of living in a prison cell are clearly visible in Anhar’s eyes, a Yemeni woman hiding a lot more than just a face behind a veil.

She was hiding her despair behind a wall of confidence in the righteousness of her case; a voice that has surrendered to the will of a higher power, the only one that could end her suffering.

An urgent desire to hold her two daughters, Shaimaa and Shumokh, whom she says she misses and feels that she has failed them, is what anyone would feel after talking to Anhar.

That, in addition to her great desire for freedom.

Thirty five-year-old Anhar whose name means rivers in Arabic, never thought that destiny will take her from the highest business achievements—as a secretary general of the Yemeni Women Business Club, a member in the Female Arab Investors Union and a representative of Yemen in more than 55 Economic forums—to a cell in the Central Prison of the capital Sana’a.

“My total debt reached 600 million Yemeni rials. I used to own a party hall in Sana’a and as a result of the 2011 uprising, many cancelled their reservations out of a fear of the clashes,” she tells Newsweek Middle East.

As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.

Twenty four tenants who used to rent commercial shops in a building she owned were forced to close because of their inability to pay rent.

To top that off, the war in Syria destroyed the clothing factory, where she imported her merchandise from, and with it ruining her last source of income.

“I sold all my properties, everything I owned and paid off the larger part of my debt, now I still owe 70 million Yemeni rials [sic].”

So far, Anhar has spent a little over three years in prison. She does not know when she will be released.

“I have made a mistake [by] trusting people whom I thought were close to me. I have dealt with them on the basis of trust. I did not document my transactions with them,” she recalls.

Anhar says she used to help several members of her family financially. But ever since she went to jail, they’ve been facing tough times. Their situation got worse with the outbreak of war in Yemen.

“I’m hoping that I will be able to pay off what I still owe to others. I am working on several plans that could help me overcome these crises,” she adds.

The Central Prison in Sana’a holds around 52 female prisoners and 2,000 male inmates.

Half the female prisoners are in jail over finance-related charges, while the other half are imprisoned for crimes such as killings, fraud, and honor crimes.

According to the National Prisoner Foundation, the total number of female prisoners who want to go back to their homes are two.

The rest don’t want to go back home even if they are released out of fear of being murdered or rejected by their families and communities.

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