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Al Houthis intensify crackdown on dissent

Activists that have been detained since 2015 are currently on trial where they are facing ‘bogus’ charges

Gulf News

Al Mukalla: An Al Houthi-controlled court has put dozens of activists on trial who peacefully oppose their rule prompting an outcry by local and international human rights groups.

The groups are calling on the immediate release of the activists — mostly university professors, public servants, students and soldiers who had protested against the 2014 Al Houthi coup.

Many of the activists have been in Al Houthi jails since January 2015.

The Iran-backed rebels accuse them of espionage and being part of terror cells — a charge they adamantly deny.

A lawyer, who attended the trial, told the Al Masadar Online news site that trial was a farce — defence lawyers were repeatedly interrupted and disrespected.

Local human right groups and the Yemen Journalists Syndicate say Al Houthis are arresting people on bogus charges in order to intimidate anyone who oppose their rule.

Thousands of Yemenis are currently languishing in Al Houthi-controlled jails across the country where they undergo repeated physical and psychological torture.

A group of prisoners’ relatives recently gathered in the liberated southern city of Aden, where Hadi’s government is based, to speak out about the plight of prisoners in the country.

At least 99 prisoners have died in Al Houthi prisons, a mother of one of the prisoners said at the gathering.

Al Houthis have also used opponents as human shields — they are placed inside military bases that are typically targeted by coalition fighter jets, she added.

Gulf News was unable to verify the woman’s claims.

Despite the outcry against the trials, Al Houthis declared a state of emergency this week, in a sign that they will intensify their crackdown on any opposition.

The rebels and their allies — renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh — have controlled all government institutions in Sana’a since they overran the capital in September 2014.

The internationally-recognised president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi currently runs the government in the southern port city of Aden where he travels back and forth from Riyadh.

Hadi came to power in early 2012 following massive Arab Spring protests that forced Saleh to give up power.

However, Hadi was forced to decamp to the city of Aden, escaping Al Houthi-imposed house arrest after the rebels took over the government in a coup in 2014.

Since then, Hadi has shifted his government headquarters to Aden from where he has led an offensive to liberate Al Houthi-occupied territories.

With help from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, Yemeni government forces has achieved widespread gains in many provinces, but Al Houthis still control the capital Sana’a and most northern provinces including Hodeida, Ibb, Mahweet, Yareem, Amran, Baydha and Hajja

Press targeted

On April 13, veteran journalist Yahya Al Jubaihi was sentenced to death by an Al Houthi court on charges that that he was working with the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

At the time, the Yemeni press union condemned the “arbitrary” sentence accusing rebels of “targeting the freedom of the press.”

It said Al Jubaihi was a “veteran journalist with a long record of professional work across Yemen.”

He was seized from his home on September 6.

The Aden-based information ministry said Al Jubaihi’s trial was a “farce” and accused rebels of looking to “settle political accounts ... through a politicised judiciary.”

Al Jubaihi wrote regular columns in Saudi dailies Okaz and Al Madina, as well as in Yemeni newspapers.

He served in the government’s press department in the 1990s and 2000s when Saleh was president and Hadi was his deputy.

Press watchdogs and human rights groups have been deeply critical of the rebels’ treatment of journalists as the conflict in the Arabian peninsula country has escalated over the past two years.

In December, journalist Mohammad Al Absi, 35, died suddenly after publishing reports about alleged corruption. His family and human rights groups said a post-mortem found he had been poisoned.

Eight reporters were killed in Yemen last year, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

That made the country the fourth deadliest for journalists after Iraq, Afghanistan and Mexico, the watchdog added.