Human Rights Organizations: Urgent Intervention Needed to Protect Four Journalists Sentenced to Death by Ansar Allah (Houthi) Armed Group in Yemen

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Urgent Appeal to the UN Special Procedures

On 25 May 2020, The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and six Yemeni organizations submitted a joint urgent appeal addressed to the United Nations (UN) Special Procedures in relation to both death and prison sentences issued against ten Yemeni journalists arbitrarily detained by Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces in Yemen since 2015. One of the ten journalists has since been released. Four of the journalists were recently sentenced to death: Abdul Khaleq Imran, Akram Al Walidi, Harith Humaid and Tawfiq Al Mansouri.

The urgent appeal calls on UN experts to use their mandates for urgent intervention, by issuing a statement or a call urging Ansar Allah (Houthi) groups to vacate the sentences against the nine journalists  The nine journalists must be immediately released, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in Yemen and the escalation of the conflict, which puts detainees at heightened risk. In addition, the appeal calls on the UN to urge the authorities in Yemen to cease detaining or otherwise punishing journalists, media workers, human rights defenders, and activists for their work, and provide an enabling space for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression without intimidation or undue restriction, and disclose the fate of the disappeared and release all those held arbitrarily.

Urgent Appeal text:

Joint Urgent Appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on Four Yemeni Journalists’ Death Sentences

Re: Urgent Intervention Needed to Protect Four Journalists Sentenced to Death by Ansar Allah (Houthi) Armed Group in Yemen

Submitted by:

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Musaala for Human Rights
Watch for Human Rights
Dhameer for Rights and Freedom
Abductees‘ Mothers Association
Peace and Building Foundation
Defaa for Rights and Freedom

For the attention of:

  • The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr José Guevara Bermúdez (Chair Rapporteur).
  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Agnes Callamard.
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye.
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule.
  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor.
  • Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer.
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Diego García-Sayán.

This urgent appeal is addressed to the aforementioned United Nations (UN) Special Procedures in relation to both death and prison sentences issued against ten Yemeni journalists arbitrarily detained by Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces in Yemen since 2015. Four of the journalists have recently been sentenced to death: Abdul Khaleq Imran, Akram Al Walidi, Harith Humaid and Tawfiq Al Mansouri. These sentences were imposed in a context of continued arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances of journalists accused of “collaborating” with the Saudi-led coalition. The Public Prosecution’s indictment accused the journalists of “broadcasting false and malicious news, data and rumors, propaganda, and establishing several websites on the Internet and social networks where they broadcast news and false rumors in support of Saudi-led coalition crimes on Yemen”.

Background information on the cases

On 9 June 2015, Ansar Allah arrested nine journalists while they were working in the Qasr Al-Ahlem hotel in Sanaa. Ansar Allah arrested a tenth journalist, Salah Al-Qaedi, from his house on 28 August 2015 who was released on 23 April 2020. The ten journalists were arbitrarily detained, and at times disappeared, over the following years. They were not formally charged by the court until February 2019.

On 11 April 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, controlled by the Houthi authorities, held a session in the absence of the journalists’ defense lawyer, Abdelmajeed Sabra. Sabra said he was provided false dates for the session. During the session, the Court convicted the 10  journalists—Abdul Khaleq Imran (34), Akram Al Walidi (30), Harith Humaid (28), Tawfiq Al Mansouri (33), Hisham Tarmom (28), Hisham Al Yousofi (27), Haitham Raweh (26), Essam Balghaith (28), Hassan Annab (40) and Saleh Al Qaedi (30)- on  charges  related to their journalism and publishing work including “collaborating with the enemy”  and “weakening the defense of the nation against Saudi Arabia,” and “spreading rumors and disturbing the public security.”

On the same day, Judge Mohammad Muflih sentenced Abdul Khaleq Imran, Akram Al Walidi, Harith Humaid, and Tawfiq Al Mansouri to death. The Court sentenced the others to time served in prison, approximately five years, and ordered they be placed under police supervision for a further period of three years. In addition, the Court decided the electronic devices and materials confiscated from the journalists when arrested in 2015 would not be returned. During their detention period, members of the journalist group were tortured, subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment, including  prevented from going to the washroom and from eating. called names, forced into confessions, and denied access to their lawyers, healthcare, and family visits.

The journalists’ lawyer, Sabra, stated that the Judge refused to attend a court session on 6 January 2020 when other journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders were present. Since 27 January 2020, the lawyer was barred from accessing the Court by the judge’s decision. The death sentences adopted by the Court were handed down without the presence of the lawyer. Sabra also said the Court refused to provide him with a copy of the case file before the decision was taken, further hindering his efforts to defend his clients before the sentence was handed down in April 2020.

Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces, which have taken over large parts of Yemen since 2014, have continuously suppressed freedom of expression and spread fear amongst activists, religious groups, journalists, and political opponents, through the use of arbitrary and abusive detention, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and disappearance. Ansar Allah has not only targeted journalists, but also others who have raised issues or criticized the group’s governance and control over parts of Yemen.

Non-state armed groups engaged in conflict, like Ansar Allah, are bound by international humanitarian law. Non-state actors that exercise government-like functions and control over territory are bound to respect human rights norms. Both international humanitarian law and international human rights law prohibit arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, and protect the right to a fair trial. In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the death sentence may only be imposed for the most serious crimes.

We urge your mandates to urgently intervene, through issuing an urgent appeal or a statement,  to call on Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces to :

  • Vacate the sentences against the nine journalists, including, most urgently, the death sentences issued against Abdul Khaleq Imran, Akram Al Walidi, Harith Humaid and Tawfiq Al Mansour;
  • Immediately release the nine journalists, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in Yemen and the escalation of the conflict, which puts detainees at heightened risk;
  • Cease detaining or otherwise punishing journalists, media workers, human rights defenders, and activists for their work, and provide an enabling space for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression without intimidation or undue restriction.
  • Disclose the fate of the disappeared and release all those held arbitrarily.

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