Yemen: Journalists remain in prison despite release order, while others kidnapped

21.05.20

It has been over a month since a court in Yemen sentenced four journalists to death and ordered six others to be freed, yet five remain behind bars. Earlier in May 2020, over 150 NGOs called for the sentence to be overturned and the journalists to be freed immediately. Journalists working in Yemen are at extreme risk of arrest and kidnapping from various parties to the conflict, sometimes disappearing for years with no news. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has repeatedly documented the cases of journalists kidnapped in recent years up to early May 2020, whose families await news of their fates.

On 20 May 2020, human rights lawyer Abdelmajeed Sabra, who took charge of the defense of the ten journalists, called for their unconditional release on his Facebook page. Of the six journalists sentenced to time already served in prison, or approximately five years, only Salah Muhammad Al-Qaedi has been freed on 23 April 2020. The six journalists were also placed under police supervision for a period of three years after their release, in addition to having the electronic devices and materials in their possession when they were arrested remain confiscated.

Sabra said that despite the verdict issued by the Specialised Criminal Court in Sana’a on 11 April 2020, that, satisfied with the time they already served in prison, ordered the release of journalists Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom, Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi, Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Shihab, Essam Amin Balgheeth and Hassan Abdullah Annab, they still have not been released. Bail was submitted and release orders were issued from the Public Prosecution to implement this ruling, but he said, “they were not yet released on the pretext that they would be exchanged with prisoners of war from the other side." He added, "the judiciary should be spared and should not be used as a political card." 

Meanwhile, the four journalists sentenced to death, Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri, are still in prison awaiting the completion of the necessary procedures to start the appeal in their case, which will take place before the Specialised Criminal Appeals Court in Sana'a. On 22 April 2020, their lawyer started the procedures for the appeal against the death sentence, following their conviction on charges of spying and spreading false news.

For more information on the case, see the joint action led by GCHR and signed by over 150 groups worldwide: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2386

In other news, on 01 May 2020, journalist Assil Mustafa Swid (23 years of age) was kidnapped after he left his home in Taiz, heading to Aden, which is 167 km to the south. He fled to Aden after he received many threats from people via Messenger as well as comments on a Facebook post in addition to a threatening SMS sent to his mobile phone number.

His family has not been able to locate him yet, despite submitting a communication to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Some local reports have stated that Swid is being held arbitrarily by the Command of the Fifth Brigade, in Lahj Governorate, which is affiliated with the United Arab Emirates-backed Transitional Council. These reports added that the reason for his kidnapping was a film entitled "Death on the Borders", which he worked on, including doing some of the filming. The film talks about Saudi Arabia's indiscriminate recruitment of groups of Yemeni citizens to participate in the fighting on the Saudi-Yemeni border. It was shown on Al-Jazeera.

Another journalist who was kidnapped over five years ago remains missing. On 06 April 2015, two armed men in civilian clothes kidnapped journalist Waheed Mohammad Naji Haider Al-Sufi while he was waiting for his turn to pay an Internet bill in a queue at the Al-Tahrir Post Center in the centre of the capital, Sana'a, and forced him into a white Land Cruiser and took him to an unknown destination.

He left behind a family consisting of a wife and two girls, who made every effort to find out where he was being held. They searched for him in the Criminal Investigation Department, the security authorities, the Public Prosecution, and the Ministry of Human Rights. They also appealed for help to international organisations, including the International Red Cross, but to no avail.

Al-Sufi established a daily news website called Al-Arabia Online, and he also received an official permit from the Ministry of Information to publish a newspaper in the name of “Al-Arabiya”, but it did not see the light due to his kidnapping.

His cousin Fahmi Al-Sufi, who was accompanying him during the kidnapping, filed a complaint with Al-Olafi Police Station in Sana’a regarding the kidnapping of his relative, but he did not receive any information about his location or the party that carried out the kidnapping.

Those who make critical comments online are also at risk of kidnapping. On the evening of 17 May 2020, an armed group affiliated with the Houthis kidnapped a professor in the Media Department of Hodeidah University, Dr. Wadih Al-Shargabi, while he was in Sana'a, and took him to an unknown destination. Reliable local reports have confirmed that the reason for the arrest is due to his Facebook writings that include condemnation of the recent kidnapping of a number of students of Hodeidah University, and his demand for their release, particularly taking into account their family and health conditions. Among the students who were kidnapped were three of his students, Mujahid Wahib Al-Maasali, Osama Aish, and Adel Al-Hakim.

Al-Shargabi is a prominent media academic who worked in the 2013/2014 academic year with a group of university professors from Hodeidah to establish a media department that helped prepare a number of young media professionals and journalists in the region. He also worked in some private universities in Sana'a.

Recommendations:

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns the deliberate delay of the de facto authorities, the Houthis, in releasing the five journalists. GCHR believes that keeping them in prison despite the court’s decision to release them, on the pretest of exchanging them with prisoners of war held by the other side, is a serious violation of local laws as well as international conventions on human rights. GCHR calls for the remaining nine journalists to be released immediately and unconditionally, and for the death sentence to be overturned, as it was imposed in violation of the right to freedom of expression and also freedom of the press.

GCHR equally calls on all parties to the conflict to release all the kidnapped or forcibly disappeared citizens, including journalists, teachers, and students, immediately without any conditions.

Various authorities across Yemen mush ensure that all human rights defenders, including journalists, bloggers, and Internet activists, are able to carry out their legitimate work and express themselves freely without fear of reprisals and in a manner free from all restrictions, including judicial harassment and the persecution of their families.