Boys play on a floodway following heavy rains in the old quarter of Sanaa Image Credit: Reuters

Cairo A rights group is calling on Yemen's Houthi rebels to release 10 journalists detained nearly four years ago on "trumped-up" spying charges.

Amnesty International says Wednesday that "these men are being punished for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression."

It says nine journalists were arrested in a raid on a hotel in the rebel-held capital in June 2015, and the 10th was detained at his home in Sanaa that August.

Abdelkhaleq Amran, Hisham Tarmoom, Tawfiq al-Mansouri, Hareth Hamid, Hasan Annab, Akram Al Walidi, Haytham al-Shihab, Hisham Al Yousefi and Essam Balgheeth were working at the hotel as it was one of the few places in the city that had an internet connection and electricity.

The 10th journalist, Salah al-Qaedi, was detained at his home in Sana’a by members of Huthi forces on 28 August 2015 according to an eyewitness. Five minutes later, they returned to the house and demanded that the family hand over Salah al-Qaedi’s laptop and equipment threatening to arrest the rest of the family. When the family said that they did not have his equipment, Huthi forces arrested all seven male relatives and held them for 48 hours.

Over the course of their detention the men have been forcibly disappeared, held in intermittent incommunicado detention, been deprived of access to medical care and suffered torture and other ill-treatment.

In one recent incident, on 19 April a prison warden entered their cell at night, stripped off their clothing and brutally beat them. They have been held in solitary confinement since that day according to Amnesty International website.

Rasha Mohamed, Amnesty's Yemen researcher, says “These men are being punished for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. The de facto Houthi authorities should release them immediately and drop all the charges against them. Journalists must be allowed to carry out their work free from harassment, intimidation or threat of arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention or prosecution.”

Adding "it is completely outrageous that these men could face the death penalty simply for doing their jobs."

She urged the rebels to release them and drop all charges.

The Houthis captured Sanaa in 2014, and a Saudi-led coalition entered the war on the side of the government the following year.