Crime & Justice

Houthis continue to loot homes, seize property of opponents

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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Houthi fighters in Sanaa on June 20. [Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP]

ADEN -- The Iran-backed Houthis are continuing their campaign of looting their opponents' homes and seizing their real estate property entirely, Yemeni officials and activists said.

In one of the latest examples, on June 1, the Houthis seized a house owned by Yemeni Satellite Channel director Jamil Ezz el-Din in Ibb province, which is under their control, and kicked out his family.

A Houthi-controlled court last November passed a verdict sentencing el-Din and other journalists to death in absentia and confiscating their property.

The seizure of opponents' homes is a tactic the Houthis have used since they seized control of much of the country in a 2014 coup, with more than 2,000 such properties seized to date.

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Mourners react during the January 2 funeral in Taez of TV reporter Adib al-Janani, who was killed in a December 30 attack on Aden airport that claimed at least 26 lives and has been blamed on the Iran-backed Houthis. [Ahmad al-Basha/AFP]

The Yemeni government and human rights organisations and activists condemned the latest incident.

"We express our absolute solidarity with our colleague," said Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani, describing the seizure as a "cowardly act of retaliation".

It is another example of the Houthis' crimes and their "continued violations against media professionals and journalists", he said.

In a December statement, the Netherlands-based Rights Radar for Human Rights called on the Houthis to stop committing abuses in Ibb province, including breaking into opponents' homes and attacking them.

The seizure of the homes and commercial properties of opponents is aimed at "exerting pressure on them and their families to prevent them from combating the Iranian regime's agenda", said economist Abdel Aziz Thabet.

It also enables the Houthis to amass money and property, enriching the militia's leaders at the expense of their opponents, he said.

Eliminating opposition

"The Houthis seized my house, looted its contents, took everything I owned, blew it up, then subsequently seized and confiscated my law firm," said lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Berman.

"When I sought recourse from the prosecutor's office and the court, the prosecutor's office conducted a field visit to the firm's offices and encountered a Houthi official," he said.

The official claimed the Houthis had seized the firm because the owner supported the Yemeni government and its backers, the Arab coalition, he said.

The official also said the proceeds of the sale would be used "to compensate Yemenis affected by the war", Berman added, noting this meant the militia would distribute the money among its own members.

The Houthis seek to dry up their opponents' livelihoods to force them to "leave Yemen and thus eliminate any voice that speaks against the Iranian regime's agenda, and to prevent them from returning to their country", Berman said.

There is no legal basis for this action, he said, noting that the law and Yemen's constitution protect private property.

The Houthis compiled "a list of 1,267 people and issued a decision in the name of their minister of interior to confiscate those individuals' money and property, including mine and most state leaders' property", Berman added.

When the militia was criticised for its actions, it issued court rulings for the confiscation to go ahead, he said.

Manipulating the judiciary

The Houthis use the judiciary for their own political purposes and means via a "sequestrator", said Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi, citing a United Nations Security Council Panel of Experts report on Yemen, published in January.

"A sequestrator is appointed by a judge to carry out a temporary procedural task, such as stopping the disposal of a disputed property between two civil litigants until the main case is resolved," he said.

"The Yemeni procedural code does not give him the right to impact a vested right or change the law to create new rights," al-Majeedi said.

The Houthis established a judicial guard headed by Saleh Mosfer Saleh Alshaer, a key Houthi figure, and gave him authority to confiscate assets from opponents and businessmen, according to the report.

"The sequestrator appointed this person and gave him authority greater than that of the judiciary," which enabled him to address the court regarding the seizure of opponents' money, al-Majeedi said.

"With these crimes taking place, we are facing a major calamity," he said.

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