Human Rights

Yemenis demand repeal of Houthi-imposed death sentences

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Abdul Qader Murtada, the head of the Houthi delegation, attends talks on a prisoners swap with the Yemeni government on February 5th in the Jordanian capital of Amman. [Khalil Mazraawi/AFP]

Yemeni officials and activists have joined international human rights groups in denouncing the death sentences handed down by a Houthi-controlled court in Sanaa against 30 academics, union members and preachers.

On July 9th, the Special Criminal Court sentenced 30 defendants to death, accusing them of spying and providing information and co-ordinates to the Arab coalition for the conduct of airstrikes. Six others were acquitted.

The Houthis have said they intend to carry out the executions within 15 days.

Yemen's Ministry of Human Rights, Amnesty International, the Mothers of Abductees Association and other human rights activists have demanded that the sentences be repealed.


Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross transport Saudi prisoner Musa al-Awaji on a stretcher to board a plane at Sanaa airport following his release by the Houthis on January 29th under a deal agreed between the government and the Houthis at UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The ministry described the trial as a "farce" and pointed out that the court issuing the sentences had been stripped of its authority 18 months ago by the the Supreme Judicial Council.

"We denounce and condemn all the crimes of the Houthis, including the death sentences issued against 30 academics and rights activists," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdelhafeez told Al-Mashareq.

The issuance of these sentences is both a crime and a prolongation of the defendants' ordeal, he said, noting that these are civilians who were kidnapped from their homes four years ago and have been subjected to torture.

"We called upon the international community, international organisations and the UN envoy to Yemen to act quickly to rescue those sentenced," he said.

"They did not commit any crime against others or their country other than their opposition to the Houthis' system of rule and living in the areas under their control," Abdelhafeez said.

'A mockery of justice'

Amnesty International described the death sentences as a "mockery of justice" and a confirmation that the judiciary has been turned into a tool of repression rather than for the dispensation of justice.

It shows a systematic pattern of using the judiciary to settle political scores, Amnesty said, calling on the "de facto authorities" in Sanaa to repeal the unjust and cruel sentences and release the 30 men immediately.

The verdict is a crime against the sentenced men and their families, who are living in a state of extreme fear and grief, lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Berman told Al-Mashareq.

The sentences were handed down by judges who usurped authority and by a court that the Supreme Judicial Council abolished a year and a half ago, when it transferred its authority to the Criminal Court in Marib, he said.

Berman said the Houthis have been using the judicial institutions they took over in the areas under their control to persecute activists and university professors and students, as is the case with the recent trial.

The defendants include Yusuf al-Bawab, a professor of linguistics at Sanaa University who is a renowned scholar in his field, and university professor Nasr al-Salami, who headed the Sharia Fatwa department at the CAC Islamic Bank.

Berman said the court acquitted six individuals because the prosecution filed charges against them for incidents that occurred in 2016, even though they had been imprisoned since 2015.

This was an embarrassment to the court, he said.

Suppressing political opponents

Berman said the Houthis are working to eliminate intellectuals who oppose them in an attempt to stifle the influence of those who oppose their policies.

This mirrors the modus operandi of Iran's legal system, he said, which "leads the world every year in issuing verdicts against politicians and dissidents".

Berman demanded that the UN take action to nullify the sentences, saying they undermine peace efforts and the Stockholm agreement of December 2018.

The sentences issued by an illegal court in Sanaa controlled by the Houthis essentially amount to a mass liquidation of 30 political activists, journalist Rashad al-Sharaabi told Al-Mashareq.

The men were kidnapped four years ago and have been subjected to various types of psychological and physical torture, he said.

"They are civilian figures, university professors, teachers, doctors, engineers and university students who were kidnapped from their homes and workplaces," al-Sharaabi said.

Kidnapping is part of the process of eroding political life, he added, noting that the Houthis have taken over swathes of the country and seized control of state institutions, including the judiciary, by force of arms.

Do you like this article?

0 Comment(s)
Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500