Sharif Mobley, an American man imprisoned in Yemen since 2010, made a rare call to his lawyers this week, urging for help to secure his release amid new fears for his life.
In an audio recording of a 10-minute phone conversation r
eleased by the international human rights NGO Reprieve, whose lawyers are representing Mobley, the 31-year-old father of three described the conditions of the prison he’s held at as “dangerous.”
Yemen has been in chaos since early this year, when the government collapsed, leaving Houthi Shiite rebels in charge of much of the country. The situation became even more chaotic this week, as Saudi Arabia launched an airstrike campaign directed at the Houthis.
Mobley said the building he was held in shook during the bombing. “I’m afraid,” he said. “I told [the guard] I need to be transferred out. I’m not a soldier, I’m a civilian. I don’t need to be in this city.”
When asked if he could identify his location, which had been unconfirmed up to this point, Mobley said that he’s being held at a military base in a central neighborhood in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. “Hadda Street,” he said.
“I’m in the basement, and that’s why I’m afraid,” he said. “It’s truly dark, no windows. I haven’t seen the sun in months.”
Mobley says the prison is a target for airstrikes because it has anti-aircraft guns on the roof. “It’s literally on top of the building,” he said. “So when they’re bombing, they’re trying to bomb this building.”
Mobley also told his lawyers that he is still being held by Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which is functioning despite the government’s collapse. Mobely also said he hadn’t heard from the U.S. embassy since December.
The New Jersey native asked State Department personnel to pass a message to his family, but expressed doubt over whether that had happened. His wife, Nzinga, has also expressed frustration about sporadic contact with the State Department. “Anytime I ever had contact with the embassy or State Department was through my initiation,” she told The Intercept in an interview last month. “And I get either no response or a weak response.”
The State Department declined a request to comment from The Intercept on Mobley, citing “privacy reasons.”
The U.S. embassy in Yemen closed its doors last month and evacuated its personnel, making any immediate prospects for U.S. government help in securing his release even less likely.
“I don’t know that I’m going to make it out of here alive,” he said.
Update: Reprieve has delivered a letter to the State Department, demanding a response from the U.S. government after Mobley allegedly identified his location.
“The deadline by which we requested that you provide information regarding the urgent case of Sharif Mobley passed last night,” the letter says. “We are deeply concerned to note that neither you, nor any of the other officials with whom we have been dealing on this case, saw fit even to acknowledge its receipt – let alone provide us with a full response to the very basic questions we had posed.”
“Our client faces an imminent threat to his life in a location under sustained aerial bombardment; he has alleged very serious ill?treatment amounting to torture at the hands of his captors; he is being held in conditions of grotesque squalour; and the judicial processes by which his case is supposedly being treated are non?existent, in a country that all international observers have described as fast collapsing into failed status.”