Yemen: Journalists forcibly disappeared and arbitrarily detained by all parties to the conflict

29.08.19

Journalists in Yemen face great difficulties as they carry out their work professionally, including being subjected to all forms of repression, such as arbitrary arrest and enforced detention. In addition, the ongoing interruption of the Internet causes almost complete isolation from the outside world.

On 27 August 2019, journalist Yahya Al-Sawari (pictured at left) escaped captivity after 56 days in several unofficial detention centres in Al-Mahrah governorate. He stated in a post on his Facebook page: “Yesterday, 26 August 2019, I was able to escape miraculously and I will write the details of the escape in future publications. I am still in Al-Mahrah and my life is under threat of going back to that hell or death if I get lucky; besides I can't go to other provinces or travel outside Yemen because my passport and all my documents are in their possession, and my brother is still forcibly disappeared as well.”

He further stated in his post, “Throughout the period of detention, I did not know where I was. I was transferred to more than one prison blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. During the interrogation I was psychologically and physically severely tortured, my body was electrocuted and they threatened to kill my little brother Badr. I went on hunger strike for a whole week demanding to be handed over to the Public Prosecution, but in the end they forced me to eat." He added, “They last moved me on 22 August, five days before this post, to a cell like a garbage dump inside a newly constructed military police camp. I found in my new cell an opportunity to escape from prison and also from chronic thoughts of suicide."

Al-Sawari started his journalistic work in 2010 in Yemen Youth Channel, then he worked at Sana'a Center for Studies. He demanded the release of his younger brother Badr Al-Sawari, who is not a journalist and whom he believed had been detained solely because he was his brother. "If the prosecutor’s office has any authority now in Al-Mahrah, it must reveal the whereabouts of my brother, who has been held by Rajeh Bakrit for 42 days," he said.

Reliable local sources confirmed that on 03 July 2019 a local militia reportedly belonging to Al-Mahrah Governor Rajeh Bakrit prevented Al-Sawari from filming wounded citizens who were lying in Ghaida hospital after being shot earlier by armed members of his militia. Then they arrested him and transferred him throughout this period between several unofficial prisons.  

After entering the province of Al-Mahrah in late 2017, Saudi forces turned Al-Ghaida airport into a military barracks where their military units settled, providing support to the Al-Mahrah governor and his militia.

In a separate case, on 16 March 2019, journalist Mohammed Ali Al-Maqri (pictured at right) was abducted while leaving his home in the governorate of Ma’rib, where he sought refuge after the Houthi forces pursued him. He was reportedly detained by the Political Security Directorate in Ma’rib and his family was not allowed to visit him. Some of the released prisoners who were detained with him said he is in poor health. His wife died on 16 June 2019, and was under great stress after her husband was arrested and held arbitrarily. The nature of the charges against him are not yet known. Al-Maqri started his journalistic work in 2010 with a number of websites and then wrote for several local newspapers.

Elsewhere, on 20 August 2019, journalists Yahya Al-Ba'athi and Mahfouz Al-Ba'athi were arrested at the hotel where they were staying by the military intelligence in Taiz city, which is under the control of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. They were released on 22 August 2019 without any specific charges being brought against them.

GCHR urges the authorities and all parties to the conflict in Yemen to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Badr Al-Sawari, journalist Mohammed Ali Al-Maqri, and all other detained journalists in Yemen;
  2. Guarantee that all detained journalists and other prisoners of conscience are held in humane conditions and have access to a lawyer and family visits;
  3. Guarantee the physical and psychological safety of journalists and prisoners of conscience including Badr Al-Sawari and Mohammed Ali Al-Maqri andwhile they remain in detention; and
  4. Guarantee that all journalists are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment and the persecution of their families.