Yemeni authorities failed to bring an American who has been held for nearly five years to a scheduled court appearance for the seventh successive time on Wednesday, according to his lawyers.
The absence from court of Sharif Mobley, a father of three from New Jersey, only deepens the mystery surrounding his fate since he effectively disappeared in Yemen’s judicial system.
Mobley, 30, has been held since January 2010 after being detained on suspicion of terrorist connections. He was never charged with terrorism, but was accused of murder after allegedly killing a prison guard during a botched escape attempt.
Mobley’s wife, Nzinga Islam, said in a phone interview that her husband is not being told about his scheduled court appearances and has been denied access to a lawyer for months.
“He’s clueless,” said Islam, who said she spoke with her husband briefly Dec. 29 when a sympathetic guard slipped him a cellphone to call her in New Jersey. “He has no idea he has hearings going on and he’s not being brought to them. I said, ‘On the 7th, you have another one.’ I just wanted him to know.”
Mobley has told his wife he is being held on a military base in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital.
A local lawyer has been showing up in court trying to submit a motion for an investigation into Mobley’s detention. Court officials won’t allow him to see Mobley unless the American signs a paper authorizing the visit. But the Yemeni authorities won’t say where Mobley is being held, according to Namir Shabibi, a case worker with Reprieve, a London-based legal rights group that is representing Mobley.
“This highlights the Catch-22 situation the family and lawyer are in,” said Shabibi.
The State Department declined comment, citing privacy reasons. A spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy said a strike by judges and political upheaval in the country, where rebels have taken over parts of the capital, has made it difficult to get answers about the case.
In the meantime, Islam fears for her husband’s safety. She said he told her a hood was placed over his head when he was taken recently to another facility where interrogators stepped on his neck and used a racial slur.
Islam said Mobley is trying to act confident and upbeat. In their most recent phone call, she said, he spoke with their 7-year-old daughter, and told her, “Don’t worry, I’ll be home soon.”