‘The safety of all those who dare to speak out against the Huthi rule is on the line - Donatella Rovera
New harrowing testimony collected by Amnesty International experts in Yemen reveals how members of the Huthi armed group are abducting and torturing protesters and others deemed to be their opponents.
Among those who spoke to Amnesty are Ali Taher al-Faqih, 34, and ‘Abdeljalil al-Subari, 40, who were seized during a peaceful demonstration in Sana’a on 11 February, a gathering that was held to commemorate the 11 February 2011 uprising. The two men were arrested alongside Salah ‘Awdh al-Bashri, a 35-year-old father of seven, who later died from the injuries he suffered after hours of torture.
The three, alongside a fourth activist who was not tortured, were taken to an unknown location where they were held in a basement until the evening of 13 February. When Amnesty met the men on 15 February the marks and scars of their torture were still very evident with deep bruises and even open wounds. Ali Taher al-Faqih told Amnesty:
“The first to be taken was Salah [al-Bashri]. I did not see him again until we were released at about 2am (on 14 February). Salah could not move or stand, not even when we tried to help him up, and could not speak. He just whispered ‘I’m thirsty’.”
Ali Taher al-Faqih also gave details of the interrogation he endured:
“They first sat me down and asked me about my job, the demonstrations I took part in, the leaders of the protests, my relations with the US embassy and with organisations opposed to Ansarullah (the Huthi political wing). They then blindfolded and gagged me. They tied my hands behind my back, bound my feet, made me lie face down on a sort of narrow table and started beating me with some sort of baton on the buttocks. The beating went on for a long time, maybe a couple of hours. The pain was excruciating. They kept telling me to confess. When they finally stopped beating me I was only semi-conscious. They had to help me up.”
In an earlier case, 21-year-old student activist Ahmad al-Thubhani was seized following a protest on the morning of 7 February near the New Sana’a University. Five Huthi members followed the taxi he was travelling in, stopped it and seized him. He was held for five days in a house next to the residence of former President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi where he was tortured. He told Amnesty:
“After I told them that I was against militias, they whipped me 20 times in a row, mostly on my back and legs, and forced me to write down names of protest leaders and activists.”
Amnesty also spoke to Fouad Ahmad Jaber al-Hamdani, 34, a well-known activist who was abducted from a small demonstration on the morning of 31 January. He was held for 13 days in four different locations and was also tortured. He still has deep bruising on his lower back:
“They blindfolded and gagged me, tied my hands and feet, tied me face down to a narrow bench, and beat me on the buttocks and lower back with a baton or iron bar until I fainted. They said ‘will you talk or shall we make you talk?’ They accused me of getting money from the US and Saudi Arabia and of links with Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and certain figures associated with the previous regime. After four hours of continuous beatings, during which I fainted several times, I agreed to write a confession. They then untied me, warned me not to organise demonstrations or contact Huthi opponents, and drove me to Zubeiri Street. They dumped me by the roadside. I could not move and lay there until a passer-by rescued me”.
Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera, who is currently in Yemen, said:
“The safety of all those who dare to speak out against the Huthi rule is on the line.
“Testimonies reveal how protesters have been detained and tortured for days on end.
“The Huthis must put an immediate stop to their illegal tactics of arbitrary detentions, torture other ill-treatment.
“Yemen’s General Prosecutor must promptly investigate these and other similar cases and bring those responsible to justice.”
Huthis’ growing hold on Yemen
The Huthis, mostly members of the (northern) Zaidi Shi’a minority who were repeatedly targeted by the regime of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (in six conflicts) between 2004 and 2010, have taken control of significant portions of Yemen. Last September the group took over army and security positions in the capital Sana’a and by the third week of January had attacked military positions, presidential compounds and government buildings - leading to the resignation of President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi and his government and the Huthis becoming the de facto rulers of the capital and other parts of Yemen.
Since then they have consolidated their hold on the capital Sana’a and the country as a whole. On 6 February they dissolved parliament and issued a constitutional declaration mandating the creation of a transitional presidential council which would act as a government for an interim period of two years. The move effectively ended the (largely unfulfilled) reconciliation power-sharing initiative negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council to end the 2011 uprising which ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh after his 33-year-rule