Society

Sanaa stifling under Houthi rule, residents say

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Armed members of the Houthis' police sit in the back of a military vehicle in Sanaa during a protest on September 17th. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Life in Sanaa under the rule of the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) is both oppressive and fraught with danger, city residents told Al-Mashareq.

Since the militia overran the city in September 2014 and seized control of its major institutions, including its service facilities, living conditions have become much worse for ordinary people, they said.

"We live in fear and apprehension every moment," government employee Mohammed Ali told Al-Mashareq, noting that the militia's actions have "exacerbated the suffering" of city residents.

Hospitals now lack the most basic equipment and supplies, he said, because the Houthis have appointed their own people to administer these facilities.

The only concern of these new appointees is to increase their personal income and enrich their associates, he said, noting that this comes at the expense of the Yemeni people, who now lack adequate services.

Ali said one of his relatives had needed to travel abroad for medical care, but had been unable to do so because the Sanaa airport was closed.

As there were flight delays at the Aden and Seiyun airports, "my relative decided to travel with his family by car to Saudi Arabia for treatment'', Ali said, but was killed in a car crash on the way back.

Inadequate medical care and transportation issues are just a few of the problems Sanaa residents now face.

"The hardships of life are many and varied under the rule of the Houthis, who control everything with an iron and fire grip," Ali said.

'We are now in a big prison'

Sanaa residents told Al-Mashareq the Houthis have been tapping them for money on various pretexts: to support their religious occasions, the war effort, the families of martyrs "or under the pretense of taxes".

"Hardly a day passes without representatives coming to us for money," Sanaa supermarket owner Saleh Hussein told Al-Mashareq.

Those who do not pay up are classified as enemies, he said, and are liable to be assaulted, kidnapped or imprisoned under the charge of collaborating with the Yemeni government or the Arab coalition.

"We are now in a big prison," he said. "We are afraid to let our children go out to play in the street for fear that they would be lured to recruitment camps, which is also a concern even while they are at school."

"If we think of leaving the country, we find it very difficult to do so because our property will be confiscated, and we could be arrested at one of the Houthi checkpoints scattered across the provinces," Hussein added.

Wadih Mohammed, a former director general of a government institution, told Al-Mashareq he cannot find work because the Houthis do not trust Yemenis who are not members of the militia to hold important positions in any institution.

Most government employees now sit at home because their salaries have been suspended, he said, while the Houthis appoint themselves and their supporters to administrative positions in institutions that are still operating.

One of his sons graduated from the Sanaa University faculty of engineering last year, he said, but could not find a job.

His mother sold some of her jewelry to help him start his own local business -- "an internet service network in our neighborhood", Mohammed said.

But local media last week reported that the Houthis had begun conducting field campaigns in areas they control to impose tariffs on wireless internet networks.

Houthis 'sow fear' in Yemen

The Houthis are imposing levies under the pretext that the funds they collect are being used to support the war effort, lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.

The militia's plan is to enrich its leaders at every level and fund activities that support their patron, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), he said.

The Houthis have sown fear in communities by carrying out kidnappings, imprisonment and torture or by forcing people to pay tributes, he said.

Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq that the Houthis' actions "are putting a choke-hold on the Yemeni people".

The militia has implemented a "culture of fear" in Sanaa, he said.

"Tributes are imposed on merchants and all shops and vendors, and those who refuse are subjected to harassment that could include arrest, the forcible seizure of the merchants' money and fabrication of charges against them," he said.

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Don't believe rumours.

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This is persecution in the true sense of the word. We're living much worse than them at prisons in other countries.

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