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UK: call on Government to help British man held by Yemeni Houthis for nearly five years

Luke Symons pictured at his wedding in Yemen © Private

Cardiff man Luke Symons, 29, detained without charge in Yemen since 2017 following arrest over UK passport 

Arm broken during torture, with solitary confinement taking heavy toll on his health

‘It’s long overdue that the Government properly engaged with his family and exerted sustained pressure on the Houthis’ - Sacha Deshmukh

Amnesty International is calling on the UK government to do more to secure the release of a British man who has been detained without charge in Yemen for almost five years.

Luke Symons, 29, from Cardiff, has been held by the Houthi authorities in the capital Sanaa ever since his arrest at a security checkpoint in the southwestern city of Ta’iz on 4 April 2017. 

According to his relatives, Symons, who was apparently arrested simply because he had a UK passport, has been accused of spying for the British government though he has still to be formally charged with any crime whatsoever. His family say that in the early periods of his confinement Symons was tortured to make him “confess” to being a spy - and as a result of beatings his arm was broken. 

The Briton is currently held in solitary confinement in a prison in Sanaa, and during his last phone call with his family earlier this week, Symons said his detention conditions were having a serious detrimental impact on his physical and mental health. Symons’ wife, a Yemeni national, expressed similar concern for his welfare after visiting him in jail last month.

Amnesty, which is working alongside the family on the case, is calling on the Houthi authorities to immediately release Symons unless he is charged with a recognisable crime. Amnesty has contacted the Foreign Office and called on officials to significantly step up efforts on behalf of the Cardiff man. 

Symons’ MP, Kevin Brennan, who raised the case during Prime Minister’s Questions last month, said:

“Luke Symons is a young man from an ordinary Cardiff family with ties to Yemen because of Cardiff’s seafaring past. He is the innocent victim of the conflict who has been held without charge or trial for almost five years. 

“As he approaches his 30th birthday I call for his captors to release him on humanitarian grounds so that he can be with his wife and child. I also call for the UK government to begin a new initiative to help secure his release before his mental and physical health deteriorate any further.”

Symons’ grandfather, Robert Cummings, who has had a number of phone calls with his grandson during his detention, is increasingly concerned that UK officials are not doing enough to help his grandson. Mr Cummings said: 

“Luke is now in a worse situation than when he was arrested - there’s been no meaningful progress in five years. 

“The FCDO isn’t getting anywhere, and the family are now urgently requesting a meeting with Liz Truss to try to find out what the Government is actually doing to help Luke.”

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said:

“Luke has already endured almost five gruelling years behind bars and it’s long overdue that the Government properly engaged with his family and exerted sustained pressure on the Houthis to get him out of jail and back home to Cardiff.”

Family connections with Yemen

Luke Symons, whose family - like many in the Cardiff area - have longstanding connections with Yemen, travelled to the country in 2012. In Yemen, Symons met and married his wife, a Yemeni national. When the international conflict in Yemen began, the couple attempted to flee the country, travelling to Djibouti. From there, the pair were effectively forced back to Yemen by the Houthi-run Yemeni embassy. Symons and his wife - who was then heavily pregnant - were threatened with detention in a desert refugee camp as well as suffering physical threats. Before their forced return to Yemen, the couple sought help from the UK authorities in Addis Ababa in neighbouring Ethiopia. However, the UK authorities would not issue Symons’ wife with a travel visa and the couple reluctantly returned to Yemen. Symons was stopped and arrested soon after their return. 

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