Crime & Justice

Houthis employ retaliatory justice in 'absurd' court proceedings

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Soldiers guard the entrance of the parliament building as members of Yemen's parliament attend a session in Sanaa, on August 13th, 2016. The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) convened parliament in defiance of the internationally recognised government prompting condemnation from Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The Iran-backed Houthi militia (Ansarallah) is continuing to use its bogus courts in an attempt to intimidate its opposition, even trying in absentia a Yemeni government official involved in prisoner swap talks with the group.

A Houthi court in Sanaa at the weekend tried more than 100 people including activists, politicians and tribal leaders, Arab News reported Tuesday (September 22nd).

Yemen's Deputy Minister of Human Rights Majed Fadhail was informed of his trial in absentia by Sanaa-based lawyer Abdul Basit Ghazi, who defends exiled activists at Houthi courts.

Fadhail and dozens of others had been tried and were accused of colluding with the militia's enemies.

The Houthis froze Fadhail's bank accounts and seized his personal properties in areas under their control.

He said the Houthis are using the courts to settle scores with their opponents and justify the seizure of properties.

"These absurd courts used by the Houthi militia will not intimidate us because we have nothing to lose and we will continue to resist," Fadhail told Arab News.

The Houthis tried in absentia a tribal elder because Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi had visited him in a hospital when he was sick, according to Ghazi.

The court also prosecuted former Minister of Information Nadia al-Sakkaf for appearing at a conference in Riyadh in 2015, he said.

Intimidation and seizing assets

The Houthis have consistently used their criminal court as a tool of intimidation and to raise funds, rather than for justice, observers say.

Earlier this month, on September 7th, the Houthi-affiliated criminal court in Sanaa issued death sentences for 109 Houthi opponents. Their charge was "collaborating with Arab coalition states".

The court ordered the confiscation of the defendants' real estate and movable assets inside and outside Yemen.

A day earlier, the Houthi court ordered the confiscation of properties and freezing the bank accounts of 75 military and security officers for backing the internationally recognised government and the Arab coalition military operations in Yemen, Arab News reported.

On December 31st, 2019, the Houthi court issued death sentences against President Hadi, Prime Minister Moeen Abdulmalik and former Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, charging them with "high treason".

Along with the death sentences, the court ordered the "confiscation of their assets and property inside and outside Yemen", local media reported.

On March 3rd, the Houthi court sentenced 35 Yemeni lawmakers to death and ordered the confiscation of their properties. The court accused them of co-operating with the Arab coalition.

The Houthis have used their illegitimate courts to go after journalists as well.

A Houthi-run court in Sanaa on April 11th ordered the execution of Abdel-Khaleq Ahmed Abdo Omran, Akram Saleh al-Walidi, Harith Hamid and Tawfiq al-Mansouri, after convicting them of "treason and espionage".

Yemen's legitimate government and the international community have made it clear that the court issuing the sentences has no legal authority, as it is dominated by the Houthis, who seized control of Sanaa during a 2014 coup.

'No legal standing'

"The Iran-backed Houthi group has no legal standing," Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi told Al-Mashareq.

"Yemen's Supreme Judicial Council in April 2018 abolished the Houthi court and transferred its powers to the Marib court," he said. "Therefore, any Houthi court ruling is null and void and is only made [in an attempt] to legitimise the Houthis' illegal actions."

The Houthis are outlaws who staged a coup against the constitution, said attorney and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Berman.

"They intend to take assets away from state leaders and army commanders, and their court intends to justify their actions," he told Al-Mashareq.

"The [Houthi court] trials are aimed at intimidating all leaders and national figures," said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez. "They are aimed at discouraging them from resisting the coup which serves the Iranian regime's agenda in the region."

The Houthis hope that by confiscating properties they can force leaders to abandon Yemen's legitimate authority and join them instead, he told Al-Mashareq.

Yemen's leaders, however, would rather sacrifice their assets for the country than join the Houthis, he said.

Houthi leaders on trial

Meanwhile, the Yemeni military court in Marib province on September 6th handed down death sentences against five members of a Houthi cell charged with undermining security in government-controlled areas.

The operatives were part of a Houthi cell uncovered last year, local media reported. They had plotted to assassinate military and security officers, planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs), blown up military equipment, and trained armed gangs in government-controlled areas.

The same military court issued arrest warrants for Houthi chief Abdul Malik al-Houthi and 174 other Ansarallah leaders inside and outside Yemen on September 22nd.

The defendants were previously charged with forming an armed group that overthrew the government, colluded with other countries and killed people.

Yemen's military court "is competent and capable of trying those involved in militia activity", said Berman, the attorney and human rights activist.

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