Mwatana for Human Rights and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic call for UN to support unjustly detained and sentenced Yemeni journalists
Ansar Allah (Houthis) should immediately release those who remain in detention and disappeared since 2015, vacate death sentences, and ensure accountability
October 13, 2020, Sana'a/ New York – Ansar Allah (Houthis) continue to arbitrarily detain nine journalists in Sana'a, said Mwatana for Human Rights and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic today in a joint letter addressed to UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups. A tenth journalist who was disappeared in April 2015 remains missing. Mwatana and the Human Rights Clinic asked the UN to continue calling for the journalists’ immediate release, to vacate the death sentence four of them face, and to seek accountability for the abuses they faced in custody.
“After nearly six years of unjust detention in Ansar Allah (Houthi) prisons, and with the death sentence hanging over four of them, these journalists deserve and need international support at the highest levels,” said Samah Subay, Director of the Legal Support at Mwatana. “They have faced torture and abuse, and have now been sentenced in proceedings that met neither Yemeni nor international standards.”
Mwatana for Human Rights and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic sent a submission to the United Nations, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Special Rapporteurs on torture, summary or extrajudicial executions, and freedom of expression, calling on them to communicate with Ansar Allah about the journalists’ cases, and to ask high-level officials responsible for detention facilities, as well as for judicial oversight, to provide answers about their cases. It also described how judicial proceedings in their cases failed to meet either Yemeni legal requirements or international fair trial standards.
On April 11, 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a issued several sentences, including the death penalty, against four of the journalists: Abdul Khaleq Imran, Harith Humaid, Akram Al-Walidi, and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, despite repeated calls from civil society organizations and the international community to release them. Mwatana’s lawyers followed up on their cases continuously, including in the period before sentencing, objecting to arrest and trial procedures that did not meet the standards of international or Yemeni law.
In the same session, the court also convicted five other journalists, sentencing them to imprisonment for the period of time they had already spent in prison. Yet, five months after the judgment, they remain detained in the former Political Security Agency building, known currently as the Security and Intelligence Agency, in Sana'a.
In August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called attention to the journalists’ cases, expressing concern that the death sentences might be carried out despite a pending appeal, and noting the ill-treatment and torture the journalists had faced.
Mwatana and the Human Rights Clinic call on the United Nations to raise specific inquiries about the journalists with high-level Ansar Allah officials, and to urge them to release the journalists, vacate death sentences where issued, and produce information on the journalist who remains disappeared. The submission called on the Rapporteurs and the Working Group to direct inquiries towards Ansar Allah (Houthi) officials with positions of oversight over relevant detention facilities and legal proceedings.
The Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group are important human rights mechanisms with the mandate to investigate and advance human rights. They can receive complaints from individuals or civil society organizations, investigate allegations, provide advice on technical cooperation, visit states to assess specific human rights cases, and communicate with groups and states to inquire about potential cases of abuse.
“The families of the journalists have had to wait for years for their loved ones to return to them, while seeing them face first torture and abuse, and more recently, unjust legal proceedings,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, Director of the Project on Armed Conflict, Counterterrorism, and Human Rights at Columbia Law School and supervisor in the Clinic. “We hope that the UN will respond to this letter by calling on Ansar Allah to end its violations of human rights, release those unlawfully detained, and reveal the whereabouts of the disappeared.”