Crime & Justice

Yemeni court sentences Houthi leader, Iranian ambassador to death

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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Supporters of the Houthis attend a speech given onscreen by the group's leader, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, during a rally in Sanaa on August 19. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

ADEN -- The military court in Marib province issued a death sentence against the leader of the Houthis and Iran's ambassador to the Houthis, and denounced the Iranian regime for taking part in the crimes committed by the group.

In an August 25 session, with Judge Aqil Taj al-Din presiding, the military court issued a verdict in Criminal Case No. 4 of 2020, sentencing Abdul-Malik al-Houthi to death, along with 173 others, and ordering the confiscation of their assets.

The Military Public Prosecution had accused al-Houthi and the other defendants of carrying out a military coup against Yemen's legitimate government, communicating with a foreign country (Iran) and committing war crimes.

The court sentenced Iran's ambassador to Sanaa, Hassan Eyrlou, to death on charges of entering Yemen on false pretenses, engaging in espionage and taking part in crimes with the Houthis.

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Iranian ambassador to Yemen Hassan Eyrlou attends a vigil in Sanaa on January 2 to mark the first anniversary of the US killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The court decided to classify the Houthi militia as "a criminal terrorist group, ban its activities, disband it, confiscate all its property and expropriate all its weapons, ammunition and military equipment".

These must be handed over to Yemen's Ministry of Defence, the court ruled.

The court called on the government to develop a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate discrimination among Yemenis on the basis of race, skin color, ancestry or sectarian affiliation.

And it asked that a lawsuit be filed with the International Criminal Court against Iran for its involvement with the Houthis in the crimes cited in the case.

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muammar al-Eryani described the court's verdict as "a victory for the blood, wounds, suffering and pain of millions of victims of the crimes and violations committed by the Houthis".

It demonstrates that the perpetrators "will not escape punishment", he said.

Following the verdict, al-Eryani said, the government will contact Interpol to request the arrest and detention of convicted Houthi leaders who are outside Yemen, and will call upon the ICC to prosecute them as "war criminals".

It will seek to restore funds the Houthis have looted to the national treasury.

Verdict's significance

"The verdict has legal significance in that it classifies Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and those with him as criminals and terrorists in the eyes of the law for the crimes they committed," said Adel al-Thibani, who served as one of the litigators.

It will be important to complete the litigation procedures, he said, because the verdict was issued by the Court of First Instance and must be finalised by the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to go into force, per Yemeni law.

"The practical effect of the verdict, upon the completion of the second and third stages of the litigation, is that it marks anyone who is affiliated with the Houthi group, takes part in its activities or embraces its ideas, as subject to the issued verdict and [classifies him] as a terrorist in the eyes of the law," al-Thibani said.

Outside Yemen, the verdict serves as an important document for the evidence and presumptions it contains, and it can be used as a basis for bringing litigation against the Houthis and Iranian actors abroad, he said.

In response to the verdict, he said, the Yemeni government must sue Iran for its involvement in helping the Houthis carry out these crimes.

Additionally, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights must put together a legal team to pursue this matter abroad.

"This court verdict proved Iran's involvement in supporting the Houthi militia and its perpetration of these crimes," said Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights spokesman Waleed al-Abara.

This will help the victims to pursue compensation claims, he said.

The crimes committed include those "against children, women and civilians, in addition to the military coup and seizure of state institutions", he said, and the verdict supports the victims' rights and holds the perpetrators accountable.

On Thursday (September 2), AFP reported that 65 combatants have been killed in the last 48 hours after the Houthis launched a renewed offensive on Marib, the last government stronghold in the north.

The resurgence in fighting comes after strikes on Yemen's largest airbase, in the country's south, killed at least 30 pro-government fighters on Sunday in the deadliest incident since December.

Some 640 children recruited by the Iran-backed Houthis to fight in their ranks were killed during the first six months of this year, according to an August 8 report by the Moyyun for Human Rights and Development (MHRD).

Crimes against civilians

The military court's verdict was based on facts and on the legal cases of crimes the Houthis had committed against civilians, National Committee for the Investigation of Human Rights Violations spokeswoman Ishraq al-Maqtari said.

She said the committee "prepared close to 3,000 cases of violations and crimes committed by the Houthi militia and submitted them to the Public Prosecutor".

These case files "were among the evidence used by the court in proving the defendants' guilt and issuing the verdict", al-Maqtari said.

The committee recommended that the Supreme Judicial Council establish a court specialised in trying perpetrators of human rights violations, and called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to support this, she said.

"The establishment of such specialised courts is important, because the procedures they would follow would be in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law," she explained.

This includes guarantees of protection for witnesses and whistleblowers, she said.

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