Yemen: Journalists at risk of execution must be freed to mark World Press Freedom Day

Four journalists who remain at risk of execution in Yemen must be freed, Amnesty International, Mwatana for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and the Samir Kassir Foundation have said ahead of World Press Freedom Day (3 May).

A Sana’a court sentenced four men – Akram al-Walidi, Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq al-Mansouri – to death on trumped-up charges, including “spying for Saudi Arabia”, and “broadcasting rumors, fake news and statements in support of the enemy Saudi Arabia” solely for their work as journalists.

“It is outrageous these brave journalists remain at risk of death simply for telling the world the truth about the suffering in Yemen,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director.

“To mark World Press Freedom Day, the Huthi de facto authorities must immediately quash their death sentences, drop all pending charges and release all journalists imprisoned for their work.”

It is outrageous these brave journalists remain at risk of death simply for telling the world the truth about the suffering in Yemen
Heba Morayef

Dire prison conditions and torture

On 11 April 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a sentenced to death the four journalists who had been awaiting trial since 2015. They were part of a wider group of 10 journalists who were formally charged in December 2018 with a series of offences, including spying, which carries the death penalty.

A first court session took place on 9 December 2019. The journalists’ lawyers were permitted to attend that session but have subsequently been barred from attending all the other court sessions.

Since their detention in 2015, all 10 journalists have been suffering from a range of medical issues, including stomach and colon pain, hearing problems, hemorrhoids and headaches for which they have not received adequate medical attention.

“The dire conditions inside Yemen’s overcrowded prisons and detention centres during the COVID-19 pandemic is also leaving detainees particularly vulnerable. The authorities should be releasing all prisoners held in violation of their basic rights and trying to ensure the maximum possible protection against the spread of COVID-19 in a way that respects and protects human rights,” said Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights.

According to Abdelkhaleq Amran’s family, detainees held in adjacent cells in the Political Security Office in Sana’a heard him screaming as he was being tortured, in November 2016.

In the arbitrary arrest cases documented by human rights organizations, the Huthi de facto authorities and allied forces have targeted political opponents, as well as journalists, human rights activists and members of religious minorities.

Others were apparently targeted for raising concerns of the Huthi forces’ takeover of state institutions, and their conduct since they have been in power. In the case of religious minorities, individuals – mainly members of the Baha’i community –  are being held and tried on account of their conscientiously-held beliefs and peaceful activities.

“We call on the Huthi authorities to open an effective, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment suffered by the journalists, and hold those responsible accountable for their actions,” said Ayman Mhanna, Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation.    

Background

In September 2014, forces of Huthis and former president Ali Abdullah took over the capital Sana'a. In March 2015, the conflict escalated with the military intervention launched by the Saudi and UAE-led coalition. Since September 2014, all parties to the conflict in Yemen have committed repeated and serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Huthi forces, which control large parts of the country, have indiscriminately shelled residential neighbourhoods and launched missiles indiscriminately into Saudi Arabia. The coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which support the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, continue to bomb civilian infrastructure and carry out indiscriminate attacks, killing and injuring thousands of civilians. All parties have also suppressed freedom of expression through arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture, and other ill-treatment in custody.

Civilians are trapped in the middle of the conflict, and bear the brunt of the violence. To date, more than 233,000 people have been killed and injured. The spiralling humanitarian crisis has left approximately 14 million people on the brink of famine. The situation has been exacerbated by years of poor governance, resulting in poverty and causing immense suffering. An estimated 22 million Yemenis currently require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“The unlawful and prolonged detention, torture and other ill-treatment that detained journalists in Yemen face is a shocking reminder of the repressive media climate that still exists in the country,” said Afrah Nasser, Yemen researcher of Human Rights Watch.