REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub

Yemen: United Nations must intervene to stop the targeting of  journalists and media workers

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Amid Yemen’s brutal conflict, ongoing since 2014, seven human rights organizations, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), issued an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council to urgently act on behalf of journalists and media workers targeted and arbitrarily detained by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group; several journalists have been sentenced to death. The targeting of journalists is part of a widespread and systematic assault on the right to free expression in Yemen, including an intent to prevent access to information about the country’s humanitarian and political situation.

.The organizations called on the United Nations to immediately intervene in the interests of ensuring the release of all arbitrarily detained persons in Yemen, including journalists, and called on all parties to the conflict to stop targeting journalists. The organizations further called on UN member states to approve the establishment of an investigative mechanism in Yemen with a criminal focus – as recommended by the UN Group of Eminent Experts – and to authorize it to prepare case files for use by the appropriate prosecutorial authorities, with the aim of ensuring accountability for violators who currently act with impunity.

Yemen: Urgent intervention required to ensure release of journalists and media workers arbitrarily detained in Sanaa

Since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen in 2014, all parties to the conflict have committed serious violations of international law and international humanitarian law. All parties to the conflict have targeted journalists and media workers who report on violations committed in Yemen.[1] In its 2021 report, the Group of Eminent Experts addressed “disappearances, arbitrary detention and/or torture of journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities, and practices by parties to the conflict to silence their perceived opposition or to punish them for religious beliefs and to legitimize their power through the spread of fear.” The group stressed that “such acts may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment, torture and outrages upon personal dignity.”

Our submission focuses on the detention of journalists and media workers by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Group. The deliberate attack on journalists is part of a widespread and systematic campaign aimed at preventing access to information about the humanitarian and political situation in Yemen.Our organizations call on you to urgently intervene and call on the authorities in Yemen to immediately release those arbitrarily detained, including the below mentioned journalists and media workers.

Throughout the conflict, human rights defenders and journalists have paid a heavy price for practicing their right to free expression. Journalists continue to be subjected to killing, harassment, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, physical assault, and fabricated charges, while their fundamental rights are unduly restricted, including their right to freedom of expression. As exemplified in the cases addressed in this urgent appeal, journalists and media workers continue to be targeted for conducting their essential work, including through arbitrary detention and the denial of their fundamental right to a fair trial. Several individuals arbitrarily detained whose cases are addressed below have not been referred to the judiciary, which constitutes a violation of the defendants’ right to defense and a fair trial.

The organizations emphasize that the restrictions imposed by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Group against activists and civilians violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1989, to which Yemen has acceded. The Ansar Allah (Houthi)-imposed restrictions also violate other rights and obligations that guarantee the right to life, physical integrity and a fair trial, as they violate the text of the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 December 2006, which states that “no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance,” and at the same time affirms that the “widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity.”

The organizations reaffirm that international humanitarian law and relevant international conventions require all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and prohibit the violation of the fundamental human rights to life and physical integrity. Thus  international human rights law criminalizes arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture, and underscores the right of defendants to a fair trial.

The undersigned organizations express their concern about the continued targeting of journalists, and the continued attacks on freedom of opinion and expression in Yemen by all parties to the conflict. In this context, we call on the UN Special Procedures to:

  • Urgently intervene in the interests of ensuring the release of all those arbitrarily detained by all parties to the conflict in a manner that guarantees their dignity, safety and security.
  • Call on the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Group to release journalists, media workers, and all other persons arbitrarily detained, urgently and without delay, including Abdul-Khaleq Omran, Akram Al-Walidy, Al-Harith Hamid, Tawfiq Al-Mansoori, Younis Abdel Salam Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Nabeel Mohammed Al-Sadawi, Mohammed Ahmed Alsalhi, and Mohammed Ali Salem Al-Junaid.
  • Call on all parties to the conflict to stop their targeting of journalists, such targeting includes the practices of enforced disappearance, detention, and intimidation.
  • Call on all parties to ensure that detainees are afforded the right to a fair trial and are provided with means of communication with the outside world, and provide places of detention with appropriate health facilities, ensuring detainees’ ability to access health facilities and obtain necessary health care.

The undersigned organizations urge office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to:

  • call on all parties to the conflict to release arbitrarily detained individuals, including the journalists and media workers Abdul-Khaleq Omran, Akram Al-Walidy, Al-Harith Hamid, Tawfiq Al-Mansoori, Younis Abdel Salam Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Nabeel Mohammed Al-Sadawi, Mohammed Ahmed Alsalhi, and Moahmmed Ali Salem Al-Junaid.
  • continue to closely monitor arbitrary detention in Yemen and violations committed against civil society and journalists, investigate violations against human rights defenders and journalists, and make recommendations to parties to the conflict regarding their duties and obligations under international law to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society organizations and enable them to carry out their work in Yemen.

The organizations urge member States of the United Nations to:

  • address violations against the individuals mentioned in the urgent appeal and call for the protection of journalists while carrying out their important work in Yemen.
  • Press parties to the conflict in Yemen to release all those arrested, detained, and convicted for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and to stop detaining journalists, human rights defenders, academics, students, and Internet activists.
  • Support efforts to achieve accountability and stop violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict.
  • establish a criminally focused investigative mechanism as recommended by the Group of Eminent Experts, with a mandate to prepare case files for use by appropriate prosecutorial authorities.

Update on the case of the four journalists sentenced to death

On 29 May 2022, the Specialized Criminal Appeals First Instance Court in Sana’a conducted court hearings in the case of the four journalists (Abdul Khaleq Imran, Akram Al Walidi, Harith Humaid, and Tawfiq Al Mansouri) sentenced to death by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Forces in the absence of the four journalists.  Defense lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra informed the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) that the journalists were not brought to the session. During the session, the prosecution responded to the lawyer’s plea and explicitly accused him of supporting ‘countries of aggression’.

On 24 May 2022, the defense lawyer sent a memorandum to the Specialized Criminal Appeals Court responding to the accusations leveled against the journalists, which included accusations of ‘assisting the Enemy’. On 28 February and 29 March 2021, court hearing sessions in the case of the four journalists had taken place at the Specialized Criminal Appeals First Instance Court in Sana’a in the absence of the four journalists, despite the fact that a memorandum requesting their presence was delivered by the prosecution office.

Following these hearings, the Specialized Criminal Appeals Court ordered the release of the four journalists. To date, the Security Intelligence Service did not implement the court’s decision. Defense lawyer Sabra informed CIHRS that the four journalists had been transferred from the Security and Intelligence Prison to the Exchange House, pending their release in a prisoner exchange. Sabra stated that the journalists were subjected to physical and psychological torture and threatened to be sentenced if the prisoner swap agreement did not take place.

The four journalists have been detained by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Group since 2015.  They were sentenced to death on 11 April 2020 by the Specialized Criminal Court in Yemen’s capital Sanaa. The Public Prosecutor’s indictment accused the journalists of “broadcasting false and malicious news, data and rumors, propaganda, and establishing websites and social networks on the internet where they broadcasted news and false rumors in support of Saudi-led coalition crimes on Yemen,” basing the indictment on articles 16, 21, 126 second, and 136 of the Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994,

The case of journalist Younis Abdel Salam Ahmed Abdel Rahman

Journalist Younis Abdel Salam Ahmed Abdel Rahman was detained on 4 August 2021 by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) Group Security and Intelligence Agency. Since then, the journalist has not been referred to the judiciary, which constitutes a violation of the defendant’s right to defense and to a fair trial.

Younis Abdel Rahman is a graduate from the Media Department of Sanaa University. He is a social media activist and journalist who writes for various private media outlets. On Wednesday evening 4 August, the journalist was arrested and subsequently detained in a dark underground cell near the Sanaa airport under the control of the Houthi group for one night. Mr. Abdel Rahman said to his brother Sultan that he could not sleep as he heard the screaming of other detainees. The next day, 5 August 2021, he was transferred to the Security and Intelligence Agency.  His defense lawyer, Abdulmajeed Sabra, has not been allowed to visit or speak to him since his arrest. The journalist’s brother and his defense lawyer confirmed that the journalist had not been formally charged to date. Abdel Rahman continues to be detained in the security and intelligence services, in violation of the Yemeni constitution and law, which limits the detention period in this facility to a maximum of 24 hours.

Abdel Rahman’s defense lawyer submitted a memorandum on 16 January 2022 to the head of the specialized criminal prosecution calling for his release on the basis that his imprisonment was arbitrary and did not meet the guarantees of a fair trial. He also emphasized the psychological impact of the arrest on the journalist. According to his relatives, Abdel Rahman was interrogated at the Security and Intelligence Agency, where he was accused of communicating with foreign forces from his residence in Sanaa. His lawyer believes that the reason for his arrest is his journalistic work. According to a report from a health clinic in Yemen that predates his arrest, Abdel Rahman suffers from a condition that requires  regular follow up in the clinic. The head of the specialized criminal prosecution directed this memorandum to the prosecutor. Nonetheless, the prosecutor refused to proceed to a trial in the case of Abdel Rahman.

On 10 February 2022, the Security and Intelligence Department requested the family to provide a commercial guarantee bail for his release.  Although the family provided the commercial guarantee bail on 22 of February,  the authorities refused to release the detainee.

This was not the first time that Younis Abdel Rahman had been arrested. On 17 August 2020, he was arrested while crossing a security checkpoint belonging to the Emirati-backed Southern Transitional Council in the Sheikh Salem area of Abyan governorate while he was returning from Marib. The journalist was released after days of arbitrary arrest. As the journalist stated on social media on his personal account;

“The group requested my national ID card. I was then singled out from among the passengers and taken to what looked like a military camp, and put in a cell, or rather a narrow bathroom, next to it were narrow and ‘out of use’ “bathrooms” cells. in the unknown place I received horrible treatment, deprivation of food and water in addition to horrific physical and psychological torture, no investigation, no sound, no light or movement from outside, unless it was to silence your exhausted voice… I compare it to what has been exposed and subjected to tens or even hundreds of colleagues in the cells of Houthi and others years ago. Until the moment of my departure, all my personal belongings except the clothes I was wearing were taken from me. They were returned to me later thanks to colleagues – I am ashamed to mention their names for fear of forgetting someone – who worked from the first moment to get me out, they did everything in their power to do so, and their efforts have already saved me from similar deaths in Sana’a, Marib, and the last of these.”

The case of journalist Nabeel Mohammed Al-Sadawi

On 21 September 2015, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces arrested and detained journalist Nabeel Mohammed Al-Sadawi in Sanaa.

Nabeel Al-Sadawi is a journalist working with the Saba News Agency[2] . On 2 July 2019, Al-Sadawi was investigated by the Public Prosecution, in the presence of his lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra. On 22 February 2022 the court issued its verdict, sentencing Al-Sadawi to eight years in prison. During the hearing held in the Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in the capital Sanaa, the journalist was convicted of ‘forming an armed group’ in cooperation with the Saudi-UAE led coalition and others who are not journalists. He was imprisoned in the detention facilities of Political Security.

On 8 March 2022, an appeal was submitted by the defense lawyer Sabra to the president of the specialized criminal court, judge Mujahid Al-Amdi, requesting him to overturn the judgment.

Sabra informed CIHRS that  journalist Nabeel Al-Sadawi suffers from multiple illnesses, which he reported to the prosecution during his investigation. He has not been seen by a doctor since his arrest, despite a memorandum from his lawyer on 7 July 2019 to the head of the Public Prosecution Office requesting that a specialized doctor treat Al-Sadawi.

The prosecution of Nabeel Al-Sadawi is based on the repressive Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994, in particular Article 133 concerning “Joining an armed gang”.[3]

Article (133): Imprisonment for up to a maximum of ten years for:

  1. Takes part in an armed gang with the intention of taking over land or looting property owned by the Government or to a group of people, or in order to resist a military force that is assigned to pursue perpetrators of such crimes.
  2. Anyone who takes part in an armed group that attacks a group of people or undertake[s] armed resistance against people or public authorities charged with upholding the law.

If death to a human being arises out of the acts of the perpetrators of the crimes cited in the previous two articles, the punishment shall be the death penalty as a religiously ordained punishment, without prejudice to the blood heirs for blood money, if the victim was not the intended target of the crime.

The case of photojournalist Mohammed Ahmed Al-Sahali

Mohammed Al-Salahi is a media activist and a journalism student at Al-Hudaydah University. Mr. Al-Salahi works as a photojournalist in the city of Al-Hudaydah. Al-Salahi was at work when the Houthi security forces arrested him on 21 October 2018 on accusations of  “assisting the Enemy”.[4] During his arrest, his phone and camera were confiscated.

The Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in Al-Hudaydah is conducting trials that are not open to the public for a large number of detainees from Al-Hudaydah, in a security and intelligence prison in Sanaa, without the presence or representation of a defense lawyer. The competent court to hear Al-Salahi’s case is the Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Sanaa. However, in November 2019, the case was referred from the Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Sanaa to the Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Al-Hudaydah. On 24 November 2019, defense lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra attended the investigation session of several journalists he represents at the Specialized Criminal Prosecution court.

During the investigation, the photojournalist described to the Public Prosecutor’s Office the torture to which he was subjected. Al-Salahi also described the various methods of torture and ill treatment inflicted upon him to his defense lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra. These included severe beatings in sensitive areas that led to swelling in his testicles, as well as “hanging with the abrasions” through a rope hanging from the roof of the detainee’s cell. The daily investigations lasted for more than six continuous hours.

The case is still pending, and no verdict has been issued in the trial at the Security and Intelligence Prison in Sanaa,

The prosecution of Mr. Al-Salahi  is  based on the repressive Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994, in particular Articles 127 and 128 on “Assisting the Enemy”.[5]

Article 127: The death penalty shall be applicable to:

  1. Yemenis who, in any way, enlist with the armed forces of a state that is at war with the Republic.
  2. Whoever surrenders any personnel of the armed forces to the enemy, or whoever assists any prisoners to return to their ranks.
  3. Whoever supports the enemy with troops, personnel, funds or whoever act as a guide to the enemies. A sentence for the confiscation of all or some of the perpetrator’s assets may be issued accordingly.

Article (128): The death penalty shall be applicable to:

  1. Anyone who works for a foreign state, or with anyone who works in the interest thereof, or exchanged information with either of them, thus leading to damages to the military, political, diplomatic or economic position of the Republic.
  2. Anyone who provides a foreign government or anyone working for the interest thereof, in any form and by any means, any news, information, objects, correspondences, documents, drawings, photographs or any other material that is related to the government authorities, public authorities, corporations that work for the benefit of the public while there was an order by the relevant concerned entity to bar the dissemination or broadcast thereof accordingly.
  3. Anyone who submits to a foreign government or anyone working for its interests, or exposed to the former or the latter, by any means, a defense secret, or who was able to have access by any means to any such secrets, with a view to submitting or exposing such secrets to a foreign government or anyone who is working for its interests. [The same also applies to] anyone who destroys, for the interest of any other state, anything, which is deemed to be a defense secret or made such thing unfit for use.

The case of journalist Mohammed Ali Salem Al-Junaid

On 13 November 2018 journalist and media activist Mohammed Ali Salem Al-Junaid was detained in Sanaa by Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces on accusations of “assisting the enemy”.[6] Al-Junaid works for Al-Thawra Newspaper[7] in Sanaa.

The Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in Al-Hudaydah is conducting trials that are not open to the public for a large number of detainees from Al-Hudaydah, in a security and intelligence prison in Sanaa, without the presence or representation of a defense lawyer. The competent court to hear Al-Salahi’s case is the Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Sanaa. However, in November 2019, the case was referred from the Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Sanaa to the Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Al-Hudaydah. On 24 November 2019, defense lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra attended the investigation session of several journalists he represents at the Specialized Criminal Prosecution court.

On 23 November 2019, the lawyer attended the investigation session of journalists at the Specialized Criminal Prosecution. The detainees included  journalist Mohammed Al-Junaid. The case is still pending and no verdict has been issued in the secret trials at the Security and Intelligence Prisons in Sana’a.

The prosecution of Mohammed Ali-Salem Al-Junaid is based on the repressive  Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994, in particular articles 126, 127, and 128 concerning “Assisting the Enemy” and “Weakening the Strength of Defense“.[8]

Article 126: Anyone who intentionally undertakes an act, with the aim of weakening the armed forces shall be sentenced to the death penalty by:

  1.  Destroying, spoiling, distorting or impairing any military site, base or facility or any factory, boat, aircraft, transportation road, transport vehicle, Facilities, ammunition, supplies, medicine or any other items that were prepared for the defense of the country, or which are used accordingly, or manufactured, repaired or rendered unfit for use for the purpose it was so prepared-even temporarily-or made to cause damage or become hazardous.
  2. Broadcasting false biased news, data or rumors or willfully disseminating inciting propaganda that lead to causing damage to the military preparedness for the defense of the country or the war operations of the armed forces in order to incite fear and weaken morale among the people.
  3. Revealing a defense secret of the country. A sentence for the confiscation of all or some of the perpetrator’s assets may be issued accordingly.

Article (127): The death penalty shall be applicable to:

  1. Yemenis who, in any way, enlist with the armed forces of a state that is at war with the Republic.
  2. Whoever surrenders any personnel of the armed forces to the enemy, or whoever assists any prisoners to return to their ranks.
  3. Whoever supports the enemy with troops, personnel, funds or whoever act as a guide to the enemies. A sentence for the confiscation of all or some of the perpetrator’s assets may be issued accordingly.

Article (128): The death penalty shall be applicable to:

  1. Anyone who works for a foreign state, or with anyone who works in the interest thereof, or exchanged information with either of them, thus leading to damages to the military, political, diplomatic or economic position of the Republic.
  2. Anyone who provides a foreign government or anyone working for the interest thereof, in any form and by any means, any news, information, objects, correspondences, documents, drawings, photographs or any other material that is related to the government authorities, public authorities, corporations that work for the benefit of the public while there was an order by the relevant concerned entity to bar the dissemination or broadcast thereof accordingly.
  3. Anyone who submits to a foreign government or anyone working for its interests, or exposed to the former or the latter, by any means, a defense secret, or who was able to have access by any means to any such secrets, with a view to submitting or exposing such secrets to a foreign government or anyone who is working for its interests. [The same also applies to] anyone who destroys, for the interest of any other state, anything, which is deemed to be a defense secret or made such thing unfit for use.

Submitted organizations;

  • Center for Strategic Studies to Support Women and Children
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Dhameer for Human Rights Organization
  • Pass for Sustainable Societies
  • Musaala Organization for Human Rights
  • Wojood for Human Security
  • Yemen Future Foundation for Culture & Media Development

[1] Reports covering Human Rights Violations Against Journalists in Yemen by Mwatana, Amnesty International, Gulf 2 Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch. See at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/05/yemenjournalists-at-risk-of-execution-must-be-freed-to-mark-world-press-freedom-day/ and https://civicus.contentfiles.net/media/uploads/key_analyses/file/2017/07/20/15_35_18/Yemen_Report_En._-_June_2017_.pdf
[2] The Saba News Agency (SABA), also known as the Yemen News Agency, is an official state news agency of Yemen.  On 19 January 2015, the Ansar Allah (Houthi forces) seized the agency. The agency then split into two factions: one pro-international recognized government, the other pro- Ansar Allah (Houthi group).
[3] The arabic version of the Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994, available at:  قرار جمهوري بالقانون رقم (12) لسنة 1994م بشأن الجرائم والعقوبات (yemen-nic.info)
[4] Assessing the enemy in this case, the Hauthi group refers to the communication with the Saudi-UAE led coalition.
[5] The arabic version of the Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994, available at:  قرار جمهوري بالقانون رقم (12) لسنة 1994م بشأن الجرائم والعقوبات (yemen-nic.info)
[6] In this case, the Hauthi group referring to the communication with the Saudi-UAE led collation.
[7] Al-Thawra News paper, is a Yemeni newspaper. After the Ansar Allah (Houthi group) takeover Sana’a in 2014, the forcesi’s captured Al-Thawra newspaper and turned it into a pro-Houthi outlet.
[8] The arabic version of the Yemeni Crimes and Penalties Law of 1994, available at:  قرار جمهوري بالقانون رقم (12) لسنة 1994م بشأن الجرائم والعقوبات (yemennic.info)

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