Yemen: Actress arbitrarily detained at risk of forced ‘virginity testing’

Yemen’s Huthi de facto authorities must halt plans to carry out a forced “virginity test” on a Yemeni actress and model who has been arbitrarily detained for more than two months on spurious grounds said Amnesty International, calling for her immediate release.  Forced “virginity tests” are a form of sexual violence and amount to torture under international law.

Intisar al-Hammadi was arrested by plainclothes security forces at a checkpoint in Sana’a on 20 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 prostitution. Intisar al-Hammadi has regularly appeared in photographs online including in social media posts, without a headscarf defying strict societal norms in Yemen.

“Yemen’s Huthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Intisar al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing. She is being punished by the authorities for challenging the social norms of Yemen’s deeply patriarchal society which entrench discrimination against women,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The Huthi de facto authorities have a deplorable track record of arbitrarily detaining people on baseless charges – to silence or punish critics, activists, journalists and members of religious minorities – as well as subjecting them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. There are no legal grounds to prolong Intisar al-Hammadi’s detention and the Huthi de facto authorities must order her immediate release.”

Yemen’s Huthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Intisar al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing. She is being punished by the authorities for challenging the social norms of Yemen’s deeply patriarchal society which entrench discrimination against women
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International

On 5 May Intissar al-Hammadi’s lawyer was informed by a member of the prosecution team of the plans to subject her to a “virginity test” within days, once a warrant is issued to the forensic doctor.

Women living in Yemen face rampant discrimination and are subjected to highly conservative cultural gender norms. The country has consistently featured at the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index.

Intisar al-Hammadi was arrested after security forces stopped the car she was travelling in at a checkpoint in Chamlan, Sana’a. The security forces allege they found cannabis in the possession of one of the other passengers.

According to her lawyer, the 20-year-old actress and model, born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, usually looks after her sick mother, elderly father and 12-year-old brother who has mental disabilities.

After her arrest, she was initially transferred to Chamlan police station and then taken to the Criminal Investigation Directorate in Sana’a Governorate where she was detained for 10 days. During that time, she was held incommunicado and subjected to repeated interrogations while blindfolded. She told both the prosecutor and her lawyer that she had been compelled to sign a pre-written statement, with her fingerprint while blindfolded – which would be her “confession” admitting to being involved in drug-related offences.

Her lawyer also said that, during her detention, security forces woke her up in the middle of the night and drove her to a number of houses, asking her if she used to work there as a “prostitute”.

After 10 days, Huthi security forces transferred her to the women’s section of the central prison in Sana’a where prison authorities prevented her from contacting her family or a lawyer. While held there, she was verbally abused and subjected to sexist and racist remarks by prison guards who also called her “a maid” and “a whore”.

On 21 April, she was brought before public prosecution for questioning in the presence of her lawyer on charges including “drug use, drug promotion, and prostitution” – all of which she strongly denies. At the end of the interrogation her lawyer witnessed her being slapped by the prison manager.

The public prosecution has prevented her lawyer from accessing her casefile despite repeated requests.

On 27 April, the lawyer was approached by a gunman who threatened him and asked him to drop the case.

“The Huthi de facto authorities must bring Intisar al-Hammadi’s distressing ordeal to an end by ordering her immediate release. Pending this, they must ensure she is granted regular access to her family and lawyer and that she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment,” said Lynn Maalouf.

“It is crucial that Intisar al-Hammadi’s lawyer is granted access to all the evidence against her in order to adequately challenge her detention. Any statements she has made under duress must be excluded from evidence during her prosecution.”