Yemen: Four journalists sentenced to death
On 11 April 2020, a court in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, which is controlled by Houthi authorities, sentenced four journalists to death for spying, among ten journalists convicted of publishing false news. The other six journalists were ordered to be freed for time served, after having been in detention for almost five years. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns the death sentences and calls on the authorities to overturn the sentences and free the journalists immediately.
During the hearing at the Specialised Criminal Court in Sanaa, Judge Mohammad Muflih pronounced the verdict in the case of ten journalists who were arrested in the summer of 2015. Ten journalists were convicted of charges brought against them in the indictment presented by the Public Prosecution to the court. They are Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran (34 years old), Akram Saleh Al-Walidi (30 years old), Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid (28 years old), Tawfiq Mohammad Al-Mansouri (33 years old), Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom (28 years old), Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi (27 years), Haitham ِAbdulrahman Al-Shihab (26 years old), Essam Amin Balgheeth (28 years old), Hassan Abdullah Annab (40 years old), and Salah Mohammad Al-Qaedi (30 years old).
The judge sentenced Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid, and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri to death. The judge sentenced the other six journalists, Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom, Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi, Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Shihab, Essam Amin Balgheeth, Hassan Abdullah Annab, and Salah Muhammad Al-Qaedi, to time that already served in prison, or approximately five years, and also placed them under police supervision for a period of three years, in addition to confiscating the electronic devices and materials in their possession when they were arrested.
On 18 February 2019, the Public Prosecution made the following allegations against the ten journalists: “During the period from 1/1/2014 until 12/12/2015, they broadcasted false and malicious news and rumours and propaganda with intent to weaken the defense of the nation and weaken the morale of the people; disturbing public security, spreading terror among people, and harming the public interest by setting up several websites and pages on the Internet and social networks and running them in secret in several hotels in the capital, Sanaa.” They were accused of “collaborating with the enemy,” namely the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting a war against the Houthis in Yemen since 2015.
The Public Prosecution stated that their electronic devices, including their phones, and some papers were confiscated. The Public Prosecution demanded that the maximum penalties be directed against them according to Articles 16, 21, 126 second, and 136 of Law No. 12 of 1994 on crimes and penalties.
Human rights lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra, who defended the ten journalists, stated on his Facebook page, that he was not informed of the latest session due to Judge Mohammad Muflih’s decision in the previous session held on 07 January 2020 to deny him standing in the case. The lawyer had submitted an application in his capacity as defense lawyer for the ten journalists, requesting that Judge Muflih refrain from considering this case because he had previously expressed his opinion on the case in public and thus became legally prohibited from presiding over it.
On his Facebook page, Sabra also mentioned that the court continued to examine the case without the presence of any defense lawyers up until the verdict was declared, describing it as a "serious violation of the provisions of the Yemeni constitution and law, as well as international treaties related to ensuring the right of defense and the right to a fair trial;” and criticised the court for “not providing us with a copy of the case file before his decision, in order to prevent us from pleading, which made us unable to provide any defense for them."
On 09 June 2015, a group of Houthi forces arrested nine of the journalists while they were working at the Qasr Al-Ahlam hotel in Sana'a. Salah Mohammad Al-Qaedi was later detained at his home in Sana’a by Houthi forces on 28 August 2015. They were arbitrarily detained and mistreated while in captivity, and were not formally charged until more than three years later. In December 2018, fabricated charges were made against them related to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of opinion and expression in a show trial that lacked the minimum international standards of fair trial and due process, which constitutes a threat to freedom of the press in the country. Freedom of expression has been violated by all parties to the ongoing conflict since 2015.
“Journalists should be protected while doing their work and not sentenced to death. The ongoing targeting of journalists and media outlets must end immediately,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR’s Executive Director
GCHR calls on the de facto authorities, the Houthis, to overturn the sentences against the ten journalists, and in particular the death sentences against journalists Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid, and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri and release them immediately.