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For many years, Yemen was considered one of the most heavily armed countries in the world, small firearms being popular among the tribal population. Tribal people armed with Kalashnikovs, pistols, or daggers have illustrated many news and country reports. Small firearms remain popular in rural areas, but a recent arms ban has ended the carrying of weapons in urban areas. It is now believed there are between six and nine million small firearms present in the country (previously fifty million), which equates to 40 guns per hundred people, which is half the figure for the United States.

The ban on weapons in urban areas has contributed greatly to the decline in crime, which has reportedly dropped by 35 percent. There is a slow increase in crimes perpetrated by unarmed people, but it remains a minor problem compared to other countries; Yemen has an official crime rate of 1.2 per capita, per 100 people. Theft and robbery are virtually non-existent; cities are very safe night and day. Laws on crime and sentencing, based on Sharia, are harsh, with occasional public hangings of murderers, public flogging and hand amputation of thieves and robbers, and public stoning of adulterers. The number of prisoners varies between 3,000 and 14,000. As a result of the northern guerrilla conflict and southern unrest, increasing numbers of political prisoners are purportedly being held without charge or trial.

Yemen has often made world headlines with news of the kidnapping of tourists by tribal people. In the period between 1996 and 2001, there were 47 kidnappings of foreigners, involving 114 tourists and 43 expatriates. Yemeni kidnappings are, however, different from ‘ordinary’ criminal kidnappings. The primary reason for the abductions is to pressure the government (and foreign oil companies) to build roads, schools, and medical facilities in neglected tribal areas. This is a continuation of an old tradition, according to which rulers held tribal sons in order to force tribal leaders into submission. The kidnapped tourists and expatriates are usually treated as guests and released unharmed. After two deadly kidnappings in 1999 (reportedly by al-Qaeda affiliates rather than by tribal people), the government became less lenient towards abduction.

"Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence.
This is the equation."

IBN RUSHD/AVERROES (1126 – 1198)

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