Akram Al Walidi is a journalist and human rights defender who spent eight years detained and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment by the Huthi de facto authorities. He was sentenced to death in April 2020, along with three other journalists. After spending three years on death row, they were all released in April 2023 as part of a prisoner exchange deal between the Huthi de facto authorities and internationally recognized government of Yemen.
At around 3am on 9 June 2015, while bombs were pounding Sana’a City, my colleagues and I were working to document the Huthi takeover and the wave of their reprisals and violations against political activists, journalists, and members of civil society by the Huthis. There were nine of us, all devoted to one cause: we had a nation to save. As journalists it was part of our duty to expose Huthi crimes.
I also had a wedding to attend. Mine. It was a month away.
We were working in a hotel room because our previous two offices had been confiscated by the Huthis. We did not want our equipment to be damaged in another raid. A few days after moving to the hotel, I heard knocking on the door and then my name, and within seconds the armed militia stormed into our room. With no office to destroy, this time the Huthis came for us.
All nine of us were kicked and brutally beaten before we even entered the militia’s van. Little did we know, this was just the start of the unfathomable evil to come. I was beaten in and out of consciousness during interrogations and their so-called ‘punishments’, but I had no crime to confess. I was a journalist!
Since they seized power, the Huthi de facto authorities have waged an all-out war on media professionals.
In one of his speeches, Abdulmalik Al Huthi, leader of the Huthi movement, described journalists as “more dangerous to this country than traitors and mercenary security fighters”.
The pain of separation
Family visitation was severely restricted and therefore our families suffered too. My family spent years in limbo wondering if I was dead or alive. When I was finally allowed family visits these were severely restricted. In fact, counting back I spent a total of four years without seeing my family. My family visits gave me some respite. But there is one visit I remember vividly in July 2019, while I was being held at the Political Security Office. My mother had arrived to see me, but within two minutes, a guard came and pulled me along with three other guards and they began to beat me with their rifles. I can still hear my mother’s voice screaming for me. I told my family not to visit me anymore.
On 11 April 2020, I was sentenced to death along with three other journalists and in October we were moved to the Central Security Forces Camp in Sana’a, a military camp belonging to the militia and it was as if we were human shields because it was an expected target for Saudi airstrikes. We thought we would die there. When airstrikes hit the camp in 2020, we felt we had cheated death. But when the airstrikes didn’t kill us the prison guards began their death threats. They would storm into our cell shouting: ‘Get yourselves ready! We are about to execute you!’
The guards also made repeated phone calls to my parents telling them I was due for execution. Each time my mother’s heart would be broken into a thousand pieces. After my release, my sister told me my mother could not stop crying. I wish there was a word more accurate than ‘torture’ to describe the relentless psychological torment my family was forced to endure.
I recently got married and I am ready to move forward with my life. Yet, I still cannot go home because the death sentence is still in place and all my property has been confiscated. How could I live in Sana’a and face the constant threat of being detained again? I have not been formally acquitted by the Huthi courts, so there is always the risk that the Huthi militia could pay one of their allies to have me killed. My family and I were forced to move away leaving behind all our memories and possessions behind.
The Huthi de facto authorities have robbed me of nearly eight years of my life that I spent in detention.
When I was sentenced to death, the judge at the Specialist Criminal Court also ordered the confiscation of all my belongings, including computers and printers, and they still refuse to return them. By seizing my devices, they want to send a clear message that they will silence dissent and media work at any cost.
But we cannot let them win. Human rights defenders and political dissidents continue to be unjustly detained and sentenced to death by the Huthis under the bogus charges of “treason” and “aiding the enemy”. As a free man I am now dedicating all my time and energy to campaigning for their release. I will not rest until each one of them is free.
(By Akram Al Walidi)