Cyber Blackmail in Aden: Girls Between the Culprits’ Hammer and the Society’s Anvil


Sat, 19-02-2022 01:05 PM, Aden

Nadia Ali (South24) 

Cyber-blackmail crimes against women and girls across the world have prevailed. However, in Yemen and other Arab countries, they cause more harm and damage to the victims.

The society, dominated by traditions and disgrace, and sometimes authorities support the blackmailers against the victims.

It is rare to see Yemeni society believe a girl who was subjected to a cyber-blackmail using her private photos or other personal data, especially on part of her family and relatives. Often, there have been prejudgments and the girl is the one who is accused as being the reason behind all of that. 

As for society, the spread of some private photos of a girl on the internet practically means her permanent moral assassination and in many cases this may become a physical one by her family. This complicates the position of the girls subjected to cyber-blackmail and renders them easy prey of the blackmailers.

In Aden, South Yemen, social media platforms witnessed much controversy during the past months over stories about blackmailing a number of girls and women.

Some of the victims confronted such crimes by publicly exposing the culprits while others surrendered to the blackmailers and gave them all what they wanted.

Some committed suicides or were killed by their families according to what exclusive sources and victims of such crimes told “South24”.

From a victim to a culprit

“Everything began in Arafa Day (the day which proceeds Eid Adha) when Facebook asked me to rewrite my account’s password, and then someone surprised me that he became the owner of my account with all its contents” said Sahar* who is one victim of cyber blackmail in Aden.

She told "South24" that the blackmailer continued to exploit her and threatened to publish her private photos previously saved during conversations with her friends.

When she refused to give up to the blackmailer's demands, he published the photos on her Facebook account before deleting them the moment she began to speak with him.

She added with a sigh of agony: "I lived at the mercy of the blackmailer. I don't wish that any other girl would experience the same feelings. He told me if I am not convinced by talking with him, he won't force me to do that but he then published my photos. I was pretending to be satisfied talking with him while I never stopped crying."

She continued: "I reached the level that I hurt myself and intentionally harmed my hands, I took a picture of this and threatened him that I will kill myself because of him hoping that he may sympathize with me but he was careless and did not feel the extent of pain and fear I had experienced."

Those acts were not enough to him, but according to the victim, he used to call her at 1AM threatening to publish her photos if she refused speaking. "It sounds as if he threw me in a big whirlpool." 

Initially, Sahar could not tell any member of her family, but when her story began to spread and reached one relative, she decided to be courageous and tell her mother but she concealed some details so as not to break her heart.

She recounted what happened while shedding tears: "After we knew that the accounts of me and other girls were hacked at the same period by hackers who are based in Aden, we were encouraged to inform the security department."

She added: "At the beginning, they received us and we gave our testimonies. They showed remarkable interest in our issue. But after a while, we knew that some security members leaked some information to the culprits amid reports about bribes. Afterwards, police started procrastinating us.” 

Sahar claimed that some public security members cooperated with the blackmailers by trying to distort her reputation and other girls’ through modifying the issue and claiming that what happened was not basically a hacking or blackmailing process but that the victims are the ones who published their own private pictures.

“South24” obtained the names of some security members accused by Sahar of “collusion and cooperation with the blackmailers.” 

Over consecutive days, “South24” Editorial Team contacted officials in the Aden Security Department to comment on the accusations but we haven’t yet received any response.

Blackmail and the Yemeni law

According to Judge Dia Mehairez, the former Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Aden: “There is no explicit legal text that stipulates a specific penalties against cyber-blackmail crimes, but the legislator generally criminalizes extortion.” 

Mehairez told “South24” that “Article 313 of the Crimes and Penalties Law set a maximum 5 years imprisonment or a fine against those who intentionally intimidate someone, or threaten to harm him or whom he cares about, or force him to deliver money, legal document or anything that carry his signature or seal in a way that could render it to a legal document.”

Accordingly, this general article could apply to cyber-blackmail crime.

“Article 254 of the same law stipulated that “maximums one year experience or a fine is the punishment of whoever threatens another by any means to commit a crime, a harmful act, or an act committed against him, his spouse, or one of his relatives up to the fourth degree, if the threat causes panic to the one who falls upon him”, she added. 

Judge Mehairez pointed out that “the Yemeni Law grants judges the discretionary power to choose any of the two penalties (the penalty of five years imprisonment for the crime of extortion, or a fine). 

Article 254 also states that threatening is a crime punishable by one year's imprisonment or a fine, and also gives the judge the same previous discretionary authority.

The need to develop legislations and law

The Yemeni laws are being seen as late and outdated towards several issues and crimes including cyber-blackmail that emerged with the technological revolution the world witnessed. This opened the door to calls and demands to update and develop these legislations and laws, similar to other Arab countries. 

Given the dangerous social impact of the cyber-blackmail crime, Judge Mehairez believes that “the Yemeni legislator had to single out a legal text for this crime to make tougher punishment against its culprits like the Saudi and Emirati legislators [1][2]

According to Ahmed Al-Qurashi, the human rights activist and the Head of the Siaj Organization for the Protection of Childhood, “the constitutions and national laws originally guarantee the protection of life, freedom, safety and reputation of all citizens”.

He told “South24” that “These laws should include articles that criminalize any illegal activities, and determine deterrent and repulsive penalties”.

He indicated that “in spite of “the spread and prevalence of cyber-blackmail crimes through social media platforms, and the resulting risks and damage to the lives, honor and safety of many segments of society, especially women and girls, the majority of national legislations is outdated and is not adaptable."

Al-Qurashi stressed the importance of "the existence of a law regulating cyber crimes," noting that "there is an urgent need to reconsider national legislation, and to identify texts that criminalize and punish this. The government must find modern mechanisms to check investigate and collect evidence regarding that kind of crime."

He called for “finding mechanisms to secure the privacy of receiving reports and complaints in a way that encourage victims to complain, as well as pursuing the defendants to achieve justice, including cross-border cyber-blackmail crimes, through coordination with Interpol.”

Prevention is better than cure  

According to statistics, the number of Internet users in Yemen until January 2021 amounted to 8.06 million users, while the number of active users on social networking sites reached 3.20 million users [3].

Despite the access of such a big number of Yemenis to the internet, many of them, especially women and girls are not aware of preventive methods that would avoid the obstacles and dangers of this virtual world.

Technical specialist and digital security basics trainer at YODT, Nour Khaled, told "South24": "It is not possible to make full protection when using the Internet, but caution must be taken during use. In the first place, it must be ensured that an effective and difficult password is set.”

Khaled stressed the importance of "not relying on any person’s private words or numbers or using them in setting up a password for personal accounts." 

She advised using applications that help to suggest difficult passwords, such as the "Key Pass" "which can keep all passwords private and secure”. 

As for social media platforms, Khaled said that it is better not to share all private matters on them, and to limit the process to a close group of friends and relatives, “so that we do not create room for blackmailers to dive into the details of our private lives, which in turn may facilitate the hacking process”. 

She stressed that there is a need for “not to rush or be tempted to open sent links whether through chat applications or by email, even with close persons, and to return using antivirus programs such as “Virus Total” which could detect the harmful links”.

In order to avoid falling into this dilemma, the technical specialist advised the users of the Internet to rely upon “doubt as the main rule during their use of this network.”

The Hack=0 Rule

As for the way with which girls and women should deal with the blackmailers, Khaled said: “Anyone who is subjected to extortion should not fear at all, and has to completely cut off contact with the blackmailers under the so-called the Hack=0 Rule which means cuts off the communication between the user and the blackmailer.”

She added: “the private email of the users should be changed as well as deactivating all communication accounts and then exit from all used devices.”

“If the blackmailer managed to reach the victim through her personal phone number, this indicates that he has a form or relationship with the victim. We should then inform the police to send a warrant to the communication company that the blackmailer used in order to reveal his identity”, she added.

She stressed that “It is a must to completely cut off communication with the blackmailer and not use the internet for at least one month.”

Khaled pointed out that the victim of the blackmailer “the hacker” is just one of many. Once she gives him the opportunity by contacting him, she unintentionally facilitates his planned scheme.”

Community awareness

Regarding the importance of community awareness of the danger of cyber-blackmailing for girl and women to stand beside them rather than against them. Dr. Mubarak Salmeen, the Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Arts at the Aden University said: "Society, especially parents, should be aware that girls are the victims and the criminal is the blackmailer."

Salmeen told “South24” about the “importance that the media outlets discuss those issue in order to increase the community awareness of the significance and the risks related to this alien problem.” 

He called for “establishing awareness programs for women to make them aware of the risks of cyber-blackmail, as well as creating sufficient awareness for them to avoid falling into the traps of blackmailers.”

Salmeen pointed out that those who were subjected to this kind of crime “should be honest with their families and to instantly inform them as well as resorting to law in case of blackmailing.”

So far, it does not seem that much will change regarding cyber-blackmail crimes in light of the absence of integrated community, security and legal efforts. The active parties in the country which will enter the 8th year of raging war next month are still too busy to pay attention to victims of women and girls, and enact laws that protect them from exploitation. 

Nadia Ali (is a pseudonym by the author for personal reasons)
South24 Center for News and Studies
Photo: By South24 © 

*Note: For personal reasons, the report uses the pseudonym name "Sahar" instead of the real name of the victim.

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