Human Rights

Houthis' 'cold-blooded' executions draw international ire

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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An armed man takes a 'selfie' picture as others surround body bags containing the corpses of nine men who were executed in a public square in Sanaa on September 18. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

SANAA -- The Iran-backed Houthis' public execution on Saturday (September 18) of eight men and a 17-year-old boy in a Sanaa public square has drawn international outrage and strong condemnation from the United Nations (UN).

The Houthis said they executed the nine individuals for their involvement in the killing of Saleh al-Samad, who chaired the Houthis' supreme political council, in a 2018 air strike claimed by Saudi Arabia.

The nine killed were among 16 people convicted by a Houthi court.

Clad in blue prison uniforms, the nine were forced to lie face down on the ground in Sanaa's Tahrir Square, where a Houthi firing squad shot them in the back as bystanders and senior Houthi leaders looked on.

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Houthi military commander Abdullah al-Hakim (centre) attends the execution of eight men and a boy in a public square in Sanaa on September 18. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

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Defendants are lined up before their execution by a Houthi firing squad in a public square in Sanaa on September 18. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The execution took place in the early morning hours, the Associated Press reported, with hundreds of Yemenis in attendance.

After it was over, the Houthis distributed photos of the killings, the agency said.

In a post on Twitter, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muammar al-Eryani said the executions had been carried out in "cold blood".

The Houthis handed over the bodies to the victims' families "with the stipulation that they be buried silently and not [prayed for] in mosques", nor could the families attend their funerals or receive condolences for them, he said.

With regard to the impact this would have on the families, he said, this edict was "no less heinous than the crime of killing them and dancing over their bodies".

International condemnation

UN Secretary-General António Guterres "deeply regrets" the executions, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a Sunday statement, adding that one of the individuals killed was reportedly a minor at the time of detention.

According to the Arab News, he was detained when he was just 15.

Guterres "strongly condemns these actions which are a result of judicial proceedings that do not appear to have fulfilled the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law", the UN statement added.

In a statement posted on social media, the British Embassy in Sanaa said the United Kingdom condemns the Houthis' "brutal execution" of nine individuals.

"This demonstrates a disregard for human dignity and a blatant disregard for fair trial and due process of law," it said. "Unfortunately this is not the first time."

The US Embassy to Yemen also denounced the execution, with Chargé d'Affaires Cathy Westley describing it as an "outrageous act" that serves as "another example of the Houthis' disregard for basic human rights".

Houthis' attacks on Riyadh

Al-Samad chaired the Houthis' supreme political council, and his death three years ago was seen as a major blow to the Houthis.

He was killed in April 2018 alongside six other people in an air strike in the western Yemeni province of al-Hodeidah.

"The heroes of the Royal Air Force were able to successfully target the leader of the Houthi militia Saleh al-Samad," Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Khaled bin Salman said in a post on Twitter at the time.

Prince Khaled said the strike was overseen by his brother, the Saudi crown prince, after al-Samad threatened a wave of missile strikes against Saudi Arabia.

At the time, Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies director Abdulsalam Mohammed told Al-Mashareq that the targeting of al-Samad came as "no surprise" as the Houthis had "stepped up their war by firing missiles towards Riyadh".

The Houthi escalation also was motivated by "Iran's desire to maintain the chaotic situation in Yemen and eliminate anyone who effectively takes part in agreements or the peace process", Mohammed said.

Al-Samad was the most senior Houthi leader to have been killed since the Arab coalition intervened in Yemen's war on the side of the legitimate government.

The Houthis, who had vowed to avenge his death, have regularly launched ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

In August this year, they escalated cross-border attacks by using drones.

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