A Sanaa court controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) on Tuesday (March 3rd) sentenced 35 Yemeni lawmakers to death and ordered the confiscation of their properties, in a move that experts say lacks legal basis.
In its judgement -- one of a series passed against those who oppose the Houthis -- the court accused the lawmakers, who include the House of Representatives Speaker and his three deputies, of co-operating with the Arab coalition.
The same court on December 31st sentenced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister Moeen Abdulmalik and former Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani to death and confiscated their assets, accusing them of "high treason".
In a statement to the press, the lawyer heading the defence team, Abdul Basset Ghazi, said the chief of the criminal court, Mujahid al-Amdi, held a hearing on March 3rd to pronounce the sentences against the 35 Yemeni MPs.
"The court sentenced the 35 MPs to death and ordered the confiscation of their movable and immovable assets on several charges, including supporting and assisting the Arab coalition," he said.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition has been fighting the Houthis on the side of Yemen's legitimate government since May 2015, after the Houthis staged a coup in Sanaa in March of that year.
Yemeni MP Mohammed Muqbel al-Humairi, one of the condemned, said the court has no mandate to pass such a judgement, and has no jurisdiction.
The Supreme Judicial Council had previously transferred the Sanaa court's mandate to the Marib Criminal Court, he said.
"I am proud and honoured that my name is on this list of people sentenced by a Houthi court," said al-Humairi, who also serves as the government's Minister of State for the House of Representatives and Shura Council Affairs.
"The court has no legal authority, because it is dominated by a militia that is not recognised by the international community," he added.
Confiscation and intimidation
By handing down judgements like these, the Houthis seek to seize the properties and assets of the lawmakers in question, lawyer and rights activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.
They also seek to intimidate the other lawmakers who are still in areas under their control, to keep them from joining the legitimate parliament, he said.
Yemen's parliament reconvened last April 13th after a four-year hiatus for an extraordinary session in the Hadramaut province city of Seiyun.
The Houthis want Yemeni lawmakers to continue to participate in the sessions of parliament in Sanaa, which is under their control and which implements their agenda and serves their interests by enacting legislation, Barman said.
He noted that this body operates with fewer than 100 members, "not enough to constitute a quorum", and pointed out that 140 pro-government lawmakers took part in the Seiyun session under the auspices of the legitimate government.
"The purpose of this trial is to say to the international community and to those who deal with the Houthis that [the militia] is the de facto authority, that it governs as per the judicial institution, and that it has a parliament," he said.
"The ultimate goal for them is to indicate that they manage state institutions and are not just a gang affiliated with Iran," Barman said.
But "the court has no legal authority, and therefore judgements passed by it are not worth the value of ink with which they were written," he added, noting that "the MPs who were sentenced do not live in areas under the Houthis' control".
The same court previously issued similar sentences against 100 officials, including Hadi and Yemeni ministers, he said, noting that more are sure to follow in the days ahead.
"The Houthis are preparing indictments against 2,260 figures who oppose them, and the criminal prosecution has already ordered the confiscation of their assets," he said.