Four journalists arbitrarily detained in Yemen since 2015 face the death penalty and receive inadequate medical care after an unfair trial on politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said Friday, while calling on Houthi authorities for their immediate release.
The rights group said the four journalists were unfairly charged with treason and spying for foreign states because of their work as journalists.
All four were sentenced to death on April 11 by the Houthi-controlled Specialized Criminal Court in Sanaa.
Throughout their detention, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the journalists have had only irregular and restricted family visits, lack of access to legal assistance, and inadequate medical care.
Houthi authorities arrested the four journalists – Abdul Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Humaid, and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri – along with five others during a June 09, 2015 raid on a hotel room in Sanaa, where they were working because it was one of the few locations in the city with an internet connection and electricity, family members told Human Rights Watch by phone.
On October 15, the Houthis released five of the journalists as part of a prisoner exchange deal with the internationally recognized government of Yemen, but refused to include the four with death sentences.
“Houthi authorities are using compromised courts to punish journalists for doing their job, adding to the armed group’s bleak record of abuses,” said Afrah Nasser, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“These journalists should never have been arrested in the first place, much less face the death penalty.”
The Houthi armed group has in recent years consolidated its hold on Sanaa, the country’s capital, including the judiciary.
The United Nations Group of Eminent Experts for Yemen has reported that the group has used the Specialized Criminal Courts in Sanaa “as an instrument to suppress dissent, intimidate political opponents and/or develop political capital to be used in negotiations.”
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality.
Prior to the 2015 arrests, the journalists worked for various local media outlets reporting on abuses by the Houthi armed group, which has controlled Sanaa and much of Yemen’s northwest since September 2014.
Amran was the editor-in-chief of the al-Islah news website, affiliated with the Islah political party, a key adversary of the Houthis.
Al-Walidi worked for Alrabie-ye.net news website and the state-funded news agency SABA.
Humaid was the news editor at Yemen Revolution Press reporting on Houthi human rights abuses.
Al-Mansouri worked for Yemen Revolution Press as a graphic designer. (Source: HRW)