ADEN -- A Yemeni actress and model who was arrested, tried and imprisoned by the Houthis in February 2021 on trumped up charges of "violating public morals" has been subjected to violence in prison, rights activists and media outlets said.
Actress and model Entisar al-Hammadi was detained last year at a checkpoint in Sanaa, where the Iran-backed Houthis -- who seized control of the city in a 2014 coup -- were enforcing a "morality campaign".
She had worked as a model and had several thousand followers on social media, where she posted photos of sessions with stylists and designers, and also appeared in two Yemeni TV series: Sad al-Ghareeb and Ghorbat al-Bun.
A Houthi-controlled court sentenced her to five years in prison for her alleged crimes, where she has been beaten and her nose was broken, a Yemeni lawyer and human rights activist said in mid-November.
Huda al-Sarari, who provides legal support to victims of human rights abuses in Yemen through her organisation Defence for Rights and Freedoms, has called on international organisations to visit al-Hammadi and check on her situation.
In a November 15 Twitter post, she expressed alarm about al-Hammadi's safety, noting that many female prisoners have committed suicide after being subjected to violence in Houthi prisons, and singling out one of the main perpetrators.
According to al-Sarari, al-Hammadi was subjected to violence and beatings in Sanaa's central prison by Karima al-Marwani, a Zainabiyat Battalion element known as "Umm al-Karrar", that left her with a broken nose.
Iran-inspired female battalion
The Zainabiyat Battalion is the female military wing of the Houthis, and has its roots in Iran, lawyer and activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.
The Yemeni battalion was formed by copying the all-female units of the Basij Resistance Forces, a paramilitary group aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), he said.
A number of women with ties to the Houthis' leadership have been sent to Iran to receive training from Iranian and Lebanese trainers, he told Al-Mashareq.
Among its activities, the Zainabiyat engage in "intelligence gathering, as many carry out monitoring and information gathering because it is easy for women to enter homes and visit families that are targeted for information", Barman said.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council's Panel of Experts has reported on the "atrocious" actions of the Zainabiyat Battalion, which cause serious harm to women in Yemen, said human rights activist Noura al-Jarawi.
The Zainabiyat recruit and mobilise elements and also persecute opponents, targeting male and female activists, in ways that breach human rights regulations, al-Jarawi said.
Some 6,000 women are active within the Zainabiyat's organised units, which include a female police force that performs illegal actions such as repression, abuse, torture of detained women and espionage, she said.
More than 200 Zainabiyat women have undergone military, security and ideological training in Iran and southern Lebanon, al-Jarawi said.
Raids, arrests, torture
Abuse of women is sadly commonplace in Houthi-controlled prisons and in the community at large, those familiar with the situation told Al-Mashareq.
The Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms has documented 1,444 violations committed by the Zainabiyat alone between December 2017 and October 2022.
In a November 10 report, the network detailed numerous cases in which women have been attacked and their rights have been violated.
Cases include arbitrary detention, sexual assault, beatings, torture, facilitation of rape in secret detention centres, prosecution of woman activists and assault on female participants in sit-ins held in some Houthi-controlled provinces, it said.
According to the report, Zainabiyat elements -- some of whom are schoolgirls or university students who have been forcibly recruited into the battalion -- have been posted at various checkpoints at the entrances to some cities.
Members of the battalion have been accused of involvement in the killing of nine women, it said, including six who died as a result of severe beatings with batons and copper cables, and three who were killed at gunpoint.
Zainabiyat elements also inflicted various injuries on 42 women, the report said.
It documented 172 raids the Zainabiyat carried out: 31 on service and health facilities, 76 on schools and universities and 65 on places of worship and Qur'an study centres.
According to the report, Zainabiyat elements arrested or kidnapped some 571 women, 231 of whom are still detained in Houthi prisons, where they are under the supervision of the Zainabiyat battalion.
Zainabiyat elements also subjected about 62 detainees to psychological and physical torture in Houthi prisons, and recruited about 4,000 elements.
A number of these elements have undergone combat training in Sanaa, the report said, while others received training in Lebanon or Iran from experts of Hizbullah or the IRGC.
More Zainabiyat violations
The violations documented by the network are just "the tip of the iceberg", Yemen's Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi told Al-Mashareq.
Since 2017, he said, the network's reports have shed light on the hypocrisy of the Houthis, who falsely claim to protect the honour of Yemeni women and use religious slogans as cover for their crimes.
"International reports and testimonies of those who were in Houthi prisons, and those who worked as supervisors in these prisons and subsequently managed to escape, have revealed atrocities committed by the Zainabiyat," he said.
Al-Majeedi said some of these violations were the reason certain Houthi leaders have been included on international sanction lists, including the Houthis' former Criminal Investigation Department director, Sultan Zabin.
Zabin has engaged "in acts that threaten the peace, security and stability of Yemen, including violation of applicable international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in Yemen", the UN Security Council said.
He played a prominent role, either directly or through his authority, in intimidation, systematic arrests, forced labour, torture and sexual violence against politically active women.
Zainabiyat elements have captured young women "and presented them to Houthi leaders to assault, and then blackmail them after filming them in obscene situations", al-Majeedi said.
These girls have then been forced to engage in similar acts, as blackmail, in order to subdue leaders whose political loyalty is under suspicion, he said.
"The Houthis have committed shameful acts against women, and these indeed amount to crimes against humanity," al-Majeedi said.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights "receives complaints and reports, tracks and documents all reported violations, and prepares reports based on the violations", deputy minister Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.
This work is carried out within the framework of protecting the rights of victims, he said, adding that the ministry makes these reports available to the media and presents them at regional and international levels.