Crime & Justice

Houthi court to pursue baseless charges on journalist 'spies' after talks fail

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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The mothers of detained journalists protest in May for the release of their sons. [Photo courtesy of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate]

ADEN -- The appeals court in Sanaa, controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), said Sunday (February 28) it will continue prosecuting four journalists on unfounded spying charges, following failed prisoner swap negotiations.

The four journalists were at the top of the list of prisoners whose release was demanded by the government, and the court's announcement follows the breakdown of talks between Yemen's warring parties on February 21, after a month of wrangling, the UN said.

But the two sides "committed to keep discussing the parameters of a future expanded release operation", it added.

"I am disappointed that this round of talks did not amount to what we saw in Switzerland last September which resulted in the historic release of 1,056 detainees," UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths said in a statement.

"I urge the parties to continue their discussions and consultations, conclude the implementation of what they agreed to and expand the arrangements to release more detainees soon," he said.

On April 11, a Houthi-controlled court in Sanaa sentenced journalists Abdul Khaleq Amran, Akram al-Walidi, Hareth Humaid and Tawfiq al-Mansouri to death on spying charges after six years of detention and reported torture.

Yemen's government made it clear at the time 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.

In November, Human Rights Watch called for the annulment of the death sentences.

'Re-escalation'

Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez said the appeals court's announcement that the journalists' trial will resume is a re-escalation of conflict following the failure of the prisoner swap negotiations in Amman.

"The government agreed to swap Houthi fighters for these journalists, even though the four were arrested from their homes, imprisoned and tortured for a period of six years," Abdul Hafeez said.

He said the government is working with all parties involved and with international organisations "to end the Houthis' intransigence with regard to prisoners", including journalists.

He stressed the four were arrested inside their homes, not on the battlefield, and that their safety is a joint responsibility with the international community.

Studies and Economic Media Centre director Mustafa Nasr said the Houthis' trial of the journalists stems "from publishing-related issues and lacks the principles and standards of justice".

"We condemn these trials and consider them part of the clampdown on press freedom and the freedom of expression in general in the country," Nasr said.

The journalists "should be released immediately because there is no justification for their continued imprisonment", let alone the death sentences issued against them, he said.

According to the Yemeni Media Freedom Observatory, the Houthis top the list for violations committed against journalists in all Yemeni provinces.

Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia

Meanwhile, the Houthis on Monday fired a munition on a border village in southern Saudi Arabia, wounding five civilians, AFP reported.

Saudi civil defence said the projectile slammed into a public road in the southern province of Jizan, wounding three Saudis and two Yemenis.

Two homes, a grocery store and three vehicles also were damaged, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The US embassy in Riyadh condemned the cross-border fire, and called on the Houthis to "stop attacking innocent civilians and to engage in the diplomatic process to end this conflict".

The Houthis have escalated attacks on the kingdom in recent weeks, while they step up an offensive to seize the government's last northern stronghold of Marib.

Also on Monday, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned of a "death sentence" against Yemen after a donor conference yielded less than half the $3.85 billion required to prevent a devastating famine.

The US pledged $191 million in additional humanitarian assistance.

"Combined with the nearly $160 million we provided at the end of last year, the United States has provided more than $350 million since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2021," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

"In total, the United States has provided more than $3.4 billion to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen since the crisis began six years ago," he said.

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