Yemen: Mwatana’s leaders Radhya Al-Mutawakel & Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih detained at airport


On 18 June 2018, the President of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights in Yemen, Radhya Al-Mutawakel, and Executive Director Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih were detained for a day by Saudi and United Arab Emirates-led coalition forces at Sayoun Airport in the Hadhramout region of Yemen. They were traveling abroad to participate in several human rights activities, including an event at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Oslo. They were then taken to an unknown location, before being released late at night.

While welcoming their release, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on all authorities in Yemen to ensure that Mwatana representatives are able to carry out their human rights activities freely.

On Facebook, Al-Mutawakel wrote: "The Saudi-led coalition imprisoned us, and you released us. Thank you all."

This is not the first time the leaders of Mwatana have been detained. On 14 June 2018, the Houthi security services detained Al-Faqih at a checkpoint in the province of Marib for several hours. On 04 March 2016, Houthi forces held and interrogated Al-Faqih in Sana'a International Airport, and Al-Mutawakel was also briefly detained by Houthis on 19 September 2015. Both human rights defenders have also faced many threats and hate campaigns.

Mwatana is the leading Yemeni human rights organisation, which Al-Mutawakel and Al-Faqih co-founded in 2007. Mwatana has field researchers in 18 Yemeni governorates, and a team of 60 people, half of them women. Mwatana has consistently released solid research on abuses and provided important insight into the way in which those abuses have impacted Yemeni lives.

Mwatana also engages in strategic advocacy to push policymakers to make changes to their Yemen policies. Al-Mutawakel became the first Yemeni woman to present a briefing at the UN Security Council in May 2017. She said: “My country is in a state of total collapse. On my shoulders I bear the weight of the stories that have been gathered over the last three years by Mwatana. Mwatana operates across Yemen in extremely difficult and complicated conditions and we do everything possible to document and give voice to the victims and survivors of human rights violations that are happening daily by all parties to the conflict, in all parts of the country. One of Mwatana’s goals is to build a human rights memory that will provide the foundation for future justice and accountability for the people of Yemen.”

Al-Mutawakel’s tireless and committed advocacy also helped push the UN Human Rights Council at its 36th session in September 2017 to adopt an international mechanism to investigate violations carried out by all parties to the war in Yemen – a call which Mwatana, other Yemeni activists and international rights groups had been making for three years, including in a joint appeal signed by over 60 NGOs in August 2017.

Civil society in Yemen has faced a wide array of challenges for many years, but the threats to human rights defenders and civil society activists have only increased throughout the current war. Activists have been threatened, harassed, detained, beaten, tortured and disappeared. Yet, despite these risks, Mwatana continues to not only document and report on ongoing abuses, but to expand its work.

Al-Mutawakel was named the Defender of Human Rights and Freedom of Speech for October 2017 by Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Maharat Foundation, and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), in cooperation with IFEX.

GCHR calls on the coalition forces and all authorities in Yemen to:

1. Ensure Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih may travel freely within Yemen and abroad; and

2. Allow human rights defenders in Yemen to carry out their work unimpeded.