International rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses Yemen’s Houthi authorities of unfairly prosecuting an actress and model on charges of committing an indecent act and drug possession in a case “marred with irregularities and abuse”.
Intisar al-Hammadi, 20, who denies the charges, was detained by the Iran-backed Houthis who control Yemen’s capital of Sanaa and much of the country’s north in February.
While detained, she was interrogated while blindfolded, physically and verbally abused, subjected to racist insults and forced to “confess” to several offences, including drug possession and indecency, her lawyer alleged.
Prosecutors also allegedly threatened her with a forced “virginity test”.
Her lawyer told HRW that he had been prevented from seeing Ms. Hammadi’s case file and was stopped from representing her when she appeared in court twice earlier this month.
The Houthis, who have been fighting a war against Yemen’s internationally recognised government since 2015, have not commented on the case.
Ms. Hammadi, who has a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, has worked as a model for four years and acted in two Yemeni TV series.
She sometimes appeared in photographs posted online without a headscarf, defying strict societal norms in the conservative Muslim country.
Her lawyer said she was travelling in a car with three other people in Sanaa on February 20 when rebel Houthi forces stopped it and arrested them. Ms. Hammadi was blindfolded and taken to a Criminal Investigations Directorate building, where she was held incommunicado for 10 days, he added.
“Her phone was confiscated, and her modelling photos were treated like an act of indecency and therefore she was a prostitute [in the eyes of Houthi authorities],” the lawyer told HRW.
According to HRW, Ms Hammadi told a group of human rights defenders and a lawyer who were allowed to visit her in prison in late May that she was forced by interrogators to sign a document while blindfolded. The document was reportedly a “confession” to several offences.
In March, Ms. Hammadi was transferred to the Central Prison in Sanaa, where guards called her a “whore” and “slave”, because of her dark skin and Ethiopian descent, her lawyer said.
He added that prosecutors halted their plans to force her to undergo a “virginity test” in early May after Amnesty International issued a statement condemning them. The World Health Organization has said that “virginity tests” have no scientific merit or clinical indication and that they are a violation of human rights.
“The Houthi authorities’ unfair trial against Intisar al-Hammadi, on top of the arbitrary arrest and abuse against her in detention, is a stark reminder of the abuse that women face at the hands of authorities throughout Yemen,” said Michael Page, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
“The Houthi authorities should ensure her rights to due process, including access to her charges and evidence against her so she can challenge it, and immediately drop charges that are so broad and vague that they are arbitrary.” (Source: BBC)