Detainees include a 21-one-year-old student beaten in front of his family who were visiting him
The Huthi armed group has carried out a wave of arrests of its opponents, seizing people at gunpoint and subjecting some to enforced disappearance and torture as part of a chilling campaign to quash dissent in areas of Yemen under its control, said Amnesty International in a new report today.
The 36-page report - Where is my father? Detention and disappearance in Huthi-controlled Yemen - based on 60 cases of detention examined by Amnesty, reveals a pattern of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances in Sana’a, Ibb, Ta’iz and Hodeidah between December 2014 and this March.
The report shows that the Huthis, working with state security forces, have targeted political opposition figures, journalists, academics and human rights activists - with many held incommunicado for prolonged periods. Detainees have frequently been tortured and denied access to a lawyer or their family, with some detentions lasting for up to a year-and-a-half.
Many have been kept in secret, makeshift detention centres, including private homes, and then transferred multiple times between different locations. Eighteen individuals whose cases are featured in Amnesty’s report are still being held, while the whereabouts of three are unknown. In the vast majority of cases no reason for arrests have been given and none of the detainees featured in the report were ever officially charged or given an opportunity to challenge their detentions.
Amnesty has obtained documents showing that prosecuting authorities in Sana’a have found that the detention of dozens of those held to be without legal basis and have ordered their release - apparently to no effect.
Earlier this month, Huthi officials told Amnesty that people were detained “because they gave GPS coordinates to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.” Meanwhile, yesterday (16 May) Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights in the capital Sana’a, which is under Huthi control, told Amnesty that accusations of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture were “baseless” and that those who criticise the authorities in Sana’a have “not been subjected to any repressive measures” as “Yemen and its authorities firmly believe in freedom of expression.”
Amnesty International Middle East Deputy Director James Lynch said:
“Huthi forces have presided over a brutal and deliberate campaign targeting their political opponents and other critics since December 2014.
“Hundreds of people have been rounded up and held without charge or trial, and in some cases they have been forcibly disappeared in flagrant violation of international law.
“Instead of incarcerating opponents for weeks or months on end, the Huthi armed group should release anyone who has been arbitrarily detained, implement safeguards to ensure detainees are treated humanely, and issue clear instructions that anyone under their command committing abuses will be held accountable.”
Detainees tortured, even in front of their visiting families
Amnesty’s report includes distressing accounts from former detainees and family members who describe the use of torture in detention. The family of 21-year-old student Abdul-ilah Saylan, who was arrested outside a Sana’a cafe last August, told Amnesty how members of the security forces tortured Abdul-ilah in front of them when they visited him in detention in February. One family member said:
“The guard began to beat him. Three other guards joined in and we watched … as the four guards beat him viciously. Can you imagine how it felt to see him bleed from his nose and mouth and finally faint from the beatings while being unable to do anything to help him? They dragged him back inside when he fainted and told us to go home.”
The next time his family visited a few weeks later, Saylan’s face was black and blue with bruises. He told them that when he regained consciousness he was tied up and beaten by seven men until he nearly passed out again. He has not been charged or informed of the reason for his detention, despite his family urging the prison authorities to refer him to court. Last September a film of his “confession” that he was a fighter with an anti-Huthi group, apparently made under duress, was aired on a Yemeni television channel.
One former detainee, who was among 25 men - including journalists and human rights activists - arbitrarily arrested at the Ibb Garden Hotel last October, told Amnesty how his interrogators tortured him for an hour and a half. He was blindfolded, with his hands tied together, and beaten all over his body with a stick, while also subjected to electric shock torture to his chest, neck, forearms and groin.
Journalists and a maths teacher among those targeted
The majority of those targeted by Huthi forces have been activists, journalists or other figures affiliated with al-Islah, a Sunni Islamist political party which opposed the Huthi takeover of power in Yemen and announced its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in April last year. However, in some cases those detained apparently had no political affiliation of any kind, while at least 11 journalists are among those arbitrarily detained.
Mohamed Qahtan, a prominent figure in the al-Islah Party and outspoken critic of the Huthis, is one of several members of the group targeted, arrested. Qahtan has been missing since April last year when he was seized from his home by a dozen armed men in plainclothes. His family was only permitted to visit him once, three days after his arrest. His whereabouts have remained unknown ever since, leading his family to fear he may be dead.
Adel Hajr, a teacher from Hodeidah, has been detained since December. He was rounded up with a number of friends during Friday evening prayers, was given no reason for his arrest and has been held incommunicado for prolonged periods. His wife Arwa said:
“Adel is a father of two - one little girl and one little boy. He is just a mathematics teacher. In his spare time he used to volunteer at an orphanage. Why did they take him?”
A special committee for prisoners and detainees has been created during peace talks on Yemen currently taking place in Kuwait. Amnesty is calling on all parties to the talks, as well as others facilitating or supporting the peace process, to ensure that the rights of those arbitrarily detained by Huthi forces are prioritised during the negotiations.