New York, May 31, 2019--The Ansar Allah group, known as the Houthis, should immediately release all journalists in its custody and stop its campaign of detentions and intimidation against journalists working in areas under its control, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The Houthis are expected to begin what they have described as trial proceedings in June or July for at least 10 journalists who have been detained for nearly four years, according to Abdullah al-Mansouri, the brother of one of the journalists, and a statement from the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate sent to CPJ by syndicate co-chair Nabil Alosaidi.
Al-Mansouri told CPJ that Houthi guards in the Political Security Prison in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, allegedly tortured and mistreated his brother, Tawfiq al-Mansouri, by beating him with sticks, cables, iron bars, rifle butts, and their fists, as well as by forcing him to hold cinder blocks for several hours and preventing him from drinking water for up to a day. Al-Mansouri sent CPJ a document detailing the alleged torture and mistreatment of the other journalists in Houthi detention, which included beatings, verbal abuse, and denial of medical care. CPJ could not independently verify the allegations of torture and mistreatment.
Houthi forces control most of Yemen's north and west, as well as Sanaa, and for the past four years have been at war with the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. The Houthis have effectively taken over government institutions in Sanaa formerly run by the internationally recognized authorities, including intelligence agencies and the judiciary.
"The Houthis have demonstrated their brutality by holding at least 10 journalists in what by all accounts are deplorable conditions for nearly four years," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said in Washington, D.C. "Journalists are not combatants and they must not pay the price for Yemen's conflict. The Houthis should immediately release all journalists in their custody."
A Houthi-controlled prosecutorial body recently concluded investigations into a case it is bringing against the 10 journalists, and will hold trial proceedings for them after Ramadan concludes in early June, the journalists' lawyer, Abdel Majeed Farea Sabra, told CPJ. The journalists are Abdulkhaleq Amran, Hesham Tarmoum, Hareth Hameed, Akram al-Waleedi, Essam Balghaith, Hisham al-Yousifi, Haitham al-Shihab, Hassan Anaab, Tawfiq al-Mansouri, and Salah al-Qaedy. In December 2017, CPJ documented the detention and abuse of all 10 journalists, alongside several others.
Sabra told CPJ that the Houthis accuse the journalists of "aiding the coalition against Yemen," referring to the Saudi-led military coalition supporting the internationally recognized government, and "spreading news and rumors" in aiding them against the Houthis. Sabra told CPJ that part of the reason the Houthis were just now initiating what they describe as a trial is because the Houthi leaders were trying to have them released as part of a prisoner exchange deal with the Yemeni government.
CPJ was not able to verify this claim; however, CPJ has previously reported on journalists detained by the Houthis who were released during prisoner exchanges. Journalists have told CPJ that Houthi authorities consider them to be indistinguishable from armed combatants. Sabra noted that Yemeni law and the constitution require authorities to either release detained suspects or refer them to the judicial system within 24 hours, and told CPJ that he had sent the Houthis a petition demanding the journalists' release.
Mohammad Abdulsalam, a spokesman for Ansar Allah, did not immediately respond to CPJ's email concerning any upcoming proceedings involving the journalists, reports that they would be released as part of a prisoner exchange, or allegations of torture during their detention.
Abdullah al-Mansouri, the brother of Tawfiq al-Mansouri, told CPJ via messaging app that he has not been allowed to visit his brother for long stretches of time, and that male family members are often barred from visiting the detainees. Other family members are permitted more frequent, albeit brief, visits. Al-Mansouri added that he and the other relatives have not been allowed to visit his brother at all during Ramadan, and that Houthi authorities refused to allow them to deliver food, clothing, or medicine. Al-Mansouri said he fears the journalists will be executed as a result of the proceedings.
In an undated written document detailing the conditions of journalists sent to CPJ, al-Mansouri said that at certain points the Houthis only permit female relatives to visit the detained journalists, and that the visits are always conducted with a Houthi gunman present.
Al-Mansouri wrote in the document that the Houthi captors allowed his brother to make one phone call to the family since he was detained, and that his brother is currently suffering from a heart ailment and shortness of breath. Al-Mansouri also wrote that the nine journalists detained along with his brother in the same cell suffer from ailments including chronic headaches, hearing loss, dizziness, and severe stomach pain as a result of malnutrition and abuse in Houthi custody.
Sabra told CPJ that he has only been able to meet with the journalists twice, in September 2018 and November 2018, and is unable to communicate freely with them. According to Sabra, the Houthis forbid lawyers from being present during interrogations, and since November 2018 he has received news of their ill-treatment from the relatives who are allowed to visit them.
The Houthis have detained additional journalists, according to CPJ reporting. Journalists and media outlets have also suffered from airstrikes, arson attacks, arbitrary detentions, and other press freedom violations by both sides in the Yemeni conflict.