The Huthi de facto authorities must ensure that woman human rights defender Fatma al-Arwali receives a fair trial in line with international standards or is immediately released, Amnesty International said today.
Since the moment of her arrest by Huthi security forces in August 2022 Fatma al-Arwali has been subjected to a string of flagrant human rights violations at the hands of security and intelligence services, including being forcibly disappeared, held incommunicado and in prolonged pre-trial detention. Her right to fair trial has been jeopardized by her lack of access to legal counsel, including in the first session of her trial on 19 September.
“Fatma al-Arwali’s unfair trial before the Sana’a-based Specialized Criminal Court, a court which specializes in security-related crimes, illustrates the Huthis’ utter disregard for international fair trial standards”, said Grazia Careccia, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Al-Arwali has been in detention for over a year, held in horrible conditions in an underground room and denied visits from her family. Her case is yet another stark reminder of how the Huthis have instrumentalized the Specialized Criminal Court as a tool of repression making a mockery of justice.”
Al-Arwali has been in detention for over a year, held in horrible conditions in an underground room and denied visits from her family. Her case is yet another stark reminder of how the Huthis have instrumentalized the Specialized Criminal Court as a tool of repression making a mockery of justice.Grazia Careccia, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa
Huthi security forces arrested Fatma al-Arwali at a checkpoint in al Manshour in Ta’iz governorate on 13 August 2022. They forcibly disappeared her for about eight months during which her family looked for her in every police station and prison in Sana’a. They later informally learned that she had been held incommunicado at the security and intelligence detention centre in Sana’a following her arrest. Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law.
Al-Arwali was the former head of the Yemen office of the women leadership union of the Arab league and was active in promoting women’s rights.
On 31 July 2023, prosecutors charged al-Arwali with aiding “UAE aggression” and providing coordinates to disclose Huthi’s armed forces and “people’s committees” locations, a charge that carries the death sentence, and her case was transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC).
Since 2015, Amnesty International has documented the cases of over 60 individuals, who have been brought before the Sana’a-based SCC, including journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents, and members of religious minorities who were subjected to unfair trials on spurious or trumped-up charges by this court. Virtually all of them have been tried on spying charges, which are punishable by death under Yemeni law.
Based on interviews with her lawyer, al-Arwali was not granted basic due process rights in the proceedings up to the trial. He said he was not able to visit her a single time in detention.
Al-Arwali’s lawyer attended the first hearing on 19 September, but the judge refused to record his presence as her legal representative in the court record.
Al-Arwali told the judge that she was being held in dire conditions in a room underground and has not seen the sun for over a year. She also requested to see her children. The lawyer said he asked the court to record this statement in the hearing report but that the judge refused.
The lawyer said that security members of the security and intelligence service who were present in the court tried to remove him from the court after advising al-Arwali to request a copy of her casefile. The judge then told al-Arwali that there was no need for a lawyer.
Under international standards of fairness, everyone arrested or detained and everyone facing criminal charges has the right to legal counsel of their own choosing, to enable them to protect their rights, prepare their defense and to challenge their detention. This right also serves as an important safeguard against torture and other ill-treatment and to mitigate the risks of coerced “confessions”.
“Unless al-Arwali receives a fair hearing before a competent, independent and impartial court where concrete, credible and admissible evidence provides that she has committed an internationally recognized offence, she must be immediately released with all charges dropped,” said Grazia Careccia.