In September 2014, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) staged a coup in Sanaa, setting off a protracted conflict that has devastated the country's infrastructure and displaced, killed and impoverished its people.
Now a group of 32 Houthi leaders, including the militia's chief, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, are being tried in absentia by a criminal court in the Yemeni government's provisional capital of Aden for their actions.
The Specialised Criminal Court in Aden held its first session in this case on April 2nd, with the prosecution filing an indictment against the 32 Houthi leaders.
The defendants have been charged with forming militias affiliated with Iran, staging an armed coup against the government, committing murders, kidnappings and torture, and looting financial reserves from the Central Bank.
The charges include besieging Yemen's president and making an attempt on his life, dissolving parliament, seizing military equipment, occupying state institutions and invading cities with weapons.
They also include communicating with a foreign country with the intent of harming Yemen's military, political, diplomatic and economic status and extending that country's influence in the region.
Al-Houthi has been charged with forming armed militias that answer to Iran to overthrow the state and the political and social system through the use of force, thereby endangering Yemen's independence and territorial integrity.
He is accused of leading a gang that includes defectors from the armed forces, which received training from Lebanese Hizbullah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with the aim of overthrowing the government.
In the indictment, the prosecution demanded that the court impose the penalties prescribed by the law, taking into account that the 32 are fugitives from justice.
The court subpoenaed the defendants and ordered them to appear before the court in the upcoming session on July 1st.
Need to secure convictions
"The importance of this case lies in the conviction of these defendants, so they may receive their just punishment from a court of law," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Faisal al-Majeedi told Al-Mashareq.
The adjournment of the session to subpoena the accused "is in accordance with the Law of Criminal Procedures", he said, adding that the defendants will almost certainly be tried in absentia.
Securing convictions will be the most important step, he said: "How to implement the sentences will be discussed later."
This trial comes after a Houthi court in Sanaa sentenced Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and senior state leaders to death and ordered the confiscation of their property, on charges of communicating with the Saudis.
The courts in Houthi-controlled areas no longer have any legal standing after the militia replaced their judges and workers with others loyal to it, al-Majeedi said.
"Therefore, these are political rulings that have no legal basis," he added.
Regarding the case brought against the Houthis' leader and the other defendants, however, "we are talking about institutional government procedures based on evidence", he added.
"The defendants have the opportunity to a defence in the required manner," he said.
'A step in the right direction'
The Aden criminal court's trial proceedings are being held in absentia, which is legally permissible in the event that the authorities are unable to arrest the defendants, lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.
In this case, "the relevant international authorities will be asked to assist in securing their arrest, and upon their arrest they would be handed over to the local judiciary", he said.
Barman described the trial as "a step in the right direction".
Political analyst Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq the trial would have been more meaningful "had it come immediately after the legitimate government settled in Aden".
"Nevertheless, it is a sound step, albeit belated, and will be effective if it is handled through the right and proper channels," he said.