Security troops ride a police vehicle

Yemen: Huthi authorities must immediately release arbitrarily detained staff from UN and civil society organizations   

Huthi de facto authorities must immediately release 13 UN staff and at least 14 staff from Yemeni and international civil society organizations who continue to be arbitrarily detained one month later as part of an ongoing crackdown against the human rights and humanitarian community, Amnesty International said today.

Early last month, Huthi security forces conducted a series of raids in Sana’a, Hodiedah and Hajjah rounding up at least 27 staff, four women and 23 men, from UN agencies and at least seven local and international organizations from their homes or offices. Huthi authorities have not disclosed the whereabouts of the detained staff to their families and they are being held incommunicado and denied their right to access legal counsel or contact their families.

“This chilling wave of arrests targeting the human rights and humanitarian community is yet another stark reminder of the lengths the Huthi authorities will go to in their crackdown on civil society. In addition, these raids will exacerbate the already precarious and deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation in Yemen because many of those arrested were working to provide assistance or protection to those most in need,” said Diala Haidar, Yemen Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Huthi authorities must immediately release all UN and civil society workers who have been detained solely for their human rights and humanitarian work and end their ongoing crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Between 31 May and 9 June, Huthi security forces showed up to the offices and homes of the detained staff in large numbers, in some cases shutting off entire neighbourhoods. During the raids, they searched the offices and homes of those detained and confiscated and searched phones, laptops, hard drives, personal and work-related documents and photos. In addition, at least three family members of staff -two of them children – were detained for at least 10 days.

Huthi security forces have also summoned and interrogated staff from civil society organizations that were raided, for long hours questioning them on their work and affiliation with foreign countries. At least four staff members were either placed under house arrest or forced to sign pledges that they will not leave Sana’a.

Amnesty International interviewed 10 individuals including lawyers and human rights and humanitarian experts with knowledge of the situation on the ground.

Creating an environment of fear

The Huthi wave of arrests has instilled fear among civil society workers who feel at risk of arrest and reprisal for doing their work. The arrests coincided with an ongoing Huthi-led media campaign accusing humanitarian organizations and their staff of “conspiring” against the country’s interests through their projects.

One expert said: “We fear that we will face the same fate. There is a decision to shut down civic space. Huthis are relinquishing themselves from responsibility over the deteriorating living conditions under their rule by scapegoating civil society organizations and accusing them of conspiring against the country.”

Following the arrests, on 10 June, the Huthi Security and Intelligence Service announced the “discovery” of what they called “a spying network.” Two days later, Al Masirah TV, a Huthi-affiliated channel, broadcast a video featuring a different group of detainees who had been detained between 2021 and 2023 and held incommunicado since then, “confessing” to spying.

Huthis have a track record of using torture to extract confessions, raising fears these detainees may have been coerced to confess. Broadcasting forced confessions undermines detainees’ rights to the presumption of innocence and to not self-incriminate.

Huthi authorities have targeted human rights and humanitarian workers before. Four Yemeni UN staff members from OHCHR and UNESCO arrested in 2021 and 2023 remain arbitrarily detained and have been held incommunicado since their arrest. In September 2023, Huthis arrested Hisham Al-Hakimi, the Safety and Security Director at Save the Children, and held him incommunicado.  He died on 25 October while he was still arbitrarily detained.

Huthis also continue to restrict movement and the delivery of aid, including by imposing bureaucratic constraints such as delayed approvals, travel permit denials or delays, cancellation of humanitarian initiatives as well as interfering in project design, implementation and assessment of humanitarian activities, and imposing the mahram (male guardian) requirement on Yemeni women humanitarian workers travelling across the country.

Sentenced to death on trumped up spying charges

Since 2015, Amnesty International has documented scores of cases involving journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and members of religious minorities who were subjected to unfair trials before the Sana’a based Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) on trumped up spying charges, which are mandatorily punishable by death under Yemeni law. In all these cases, the Huthis’ prosecution authorities appeared to have brought the spying charges as means to persecute political opponents and silence peaceful dissent.

Most recently, on 1 June, the SCC sentenced 44 individuals to death on trumped up spying charges following an unfair mass trial. Sixteen were sentenced in absentia while 28 were brought before the SCC.  According to their lawyer Abdul Majid Sabra, the 28 were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions and were held in solitary confinement and forcibly disappeared for 9 months following their arrest.

“Huthi authorities have been operating with complete impunity and disregard for the rule of law. Instead of threatening and obstructing human rights and humanitarian workers, Huthis must facilitate their work and the movement of aid so they can reach the millions of people in Yemen who are currently in need of humanitarian aid and protection. They must also stop using the judicial system as a tool for political repression,” said Diala Haidar.