Yemen: Journalists, academics & activists face execution while they and their imprisoned colleagues face Covid-19 threat
Update: Yemen: On 22 June 2020, security forces in Marib Governorate released photojournalist Radwan Al-Hashedi.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is concerned about the lack of respect for freedom of expression in Yemen, and the use of the death penalty against journalists, academics and students. Nine out of ten of a group of journalists arrested in 2015 in Yemen and put on trial together, are experiencing ill treatment, and are deprived of visits or regular communications with their families. Four of them were sentenced to death and the rest were ordered released, but five of them remain in prison. They are suffering due to poor prison conditions, including the lack of hygiene and proper medical care, facing the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in prison. In a separate case, 30 citizens, including academics, educators, and university students were sentenced to death. In another case which violates freedom of expression, two photojournalists are still being held in prison despite the absence of any specific charges against them.
The 10 Journalists case: Although the verdict by the Specialised Criminal Court in the capital Sana’a on 11 April 2020 ordered the release of journalists Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom, Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi, Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Shihab, Essam Amin Balgheeth and Hassan Abdullah Annab after five years of incarceration, the four men have still not been released. All official measures have been completed to implement the court’s ruling, including the submission of guarantees and the Public Prosecution’s order to release them; but reliable local reports stated that the de facto authorities, the Houthis, decided to exchange them with prisoners of war from other parties, which will take a long time.
As part of the sentence, the six journalists were also placed under police supervision for a period of three years after their release, and the court ordered that the electronic devices and materials in their possession when they were arrested remain confiscated. Journalist Salah Mohammed Al-Qaedi, the only one released among the group, was freed on 23 May 2020.
Meanwhile, the four journalists sentenced to death, Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri (picture on the right), 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.
In a symposium organised by the National Organisation of Yemeni Journalists (Sada) on 30 June 2020, human rights lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra (picture on the left), who leads the defense for the ten journalists, talked about the legal context of the case, noting the following points:
1. The case in all its stages was outside the framework of international covenants and treaties that Yemen signed from the moment of the journalists’ arbitrary arrest on 09 June 2015 by the Houthis, followed by their enforced disappearance and torture, and up until the verdict on 11 April 2020, when they were convicted of spreading false news. The Houthis arrested them because they are independent journalists, who could not be influenced by external dictates.
2. They were arrested without any legitimate or legal justification and without evidence or proof that they had committed any violation or crime that necessitated their detention, according to the records of the investigations that were conducted with them immediately after their arrest.
3. Immediately after their arrest, the ten journalists were subjected to enforced disappearance and prevented from receiving visits for nearly six months, during which time they were subjected to various types and methods of physical and mental torture, inhuman treatment, health neglect, and suffered a number of chronic diseases as a result.
4. More than two years after their arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, the ten journalists were referred to the Specialised Criminal Prosecution in July 2017.
5. The Specialised Criminal Prosecution continued to perpetuate these violations by postponing the investigation at the direction of the Political Security Department during negotiations to release the ten journalists in exchange for prisoners of war held by other parties. When these negotiations faltered, the prosecution was forced to start the investigation after about a year and a half, in January 2018, when it drafted an indictment - that has no connection to the truth - and brought them to trial.
6. The trial procedures for the ten journalists were conducted in only four sessions, which lacked the foundations and principles of a fair trial. These sessions were:
At the first session on 09 December 2019, without the presence of the defense team, the ten journalists were confronted with the accusations, which they denied altogether. Then the defense team arrived while the journalists were facing the list of evidence which was referred for answer to the lawyers, who asked that Judge Mohammad Muflih be prevented from considering the case because he gave an opinion on it before it even took place. They also requested a copy of the case to present their pleas.
During the second session, on 27 January 2020, no action was taken, as the defense team for the journalists was expelled from the courtroom by Judge Muflih, who issued a decision preventing them from pleading before him because they submitted a request to disqualify him from presiding over the case.
The third session was on 09 March 2020, and was held without the defense team’s knowledge or presence, who were not allowed to plead before the judge.
The fourth session was on 11 April 2020, in which the verdict was pronounced.
The Nasr Al-Salami case: On 09 July 2020, defense lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra received the verdict against 36 citizens, including academics, educators, and university students. The Specialised Court of First Instance (the State Security Court) in Sana’a issued a death sentence against 30 of them with the other six acquitted were on the same day a year ago and only released after 45 days after the court ruling. It took a year for the verdict to be communicated to the lawyer. Those convicted do not possess any criminal records, and the investigation was carried out by the People’s Committees of the Houthis, even though they do not have any official legal capacity in accordance with the Yemeni Criminal Procedure Law. Paragraph 10 of Article (84) states that judicial status is granted only by law.
This case known as the Nasr Al-Salami case focuses on a group of 36 people, including Al-Salami, who expressed different opinions on public issues and their public criticism of the de facto government, the Houthis, which led to them being brought to court.
They were imprisoned in various stages, starting in October 2015, through September 2016, when most of them were arrested, and ending in December 2016.
The 36 members of the Nasr Al-Salami Group were subjected to enforced disappearance, which ranged between two to six months, and they were also subjected to physical and mental torture, various types of ill-treatment, and lack of proper health care. Despite the disappearance of visible effects of torture among some of the accused due to the prolonged period of detention and the decision not to refer them to the Public Prosecution until the traces of torture disappeared, the defense team for the detainees, represented by lawyers Abdulmajeed Sabra, Mohammed Ahmad Abkar, Mohammed Muqbel Al-Hanahi, and Hussain Mohammed Al-Hamami, have seen the effects of torture on the bodies of some of the defendants when they were allowed to attend the investigation procedures. The traces of torture were fixed in the record of the investigation, but the court neglected all of this evidence. Security forces have also, in order to harm the group of detainees and their families, published video recordings made by detainees under the weight of torture through all the audio-visual media, where were aimed at discrediting their reputations.
The detainees who were sentenced to death are:
1. Dr. Nasr Mohammed Al-Salami
2. Dr. Yousif Saleh Ali Al-Bawab
3. Khaled Dawood Ahmed Al-Nahari
4. Moaz Ahmed Abdulwahab Numan
5. Walid Qasim Al-Zain
6. Qaboos Yousif Haider Al-Shami
7. Saddam Hussain Hezam Al-Rouhani
8. Mohammed Abda Ali Saad Al-Ryashi
9. Saad Hassan Mohammed Al-Nuzaily
10. Younis Sinan QayidAl-Jaradi
11. Mohammed Ibrahim Suleiman Al-Ahdal
12. Raed Mohammed Haider Al-Rumaish
13. Abdullah Ali Hussain Al-Maswari
14. Yousif Mohammed Abdullah Al-Houry
15. Saddam Mohammed Ali Dukhan
16. Nabil Ali Rashid Al-Ansi
17. Othman Abda Hezam Al-Nuwairah
18. Mofadal Mohammad Ali Adham Al-Sharafi
19. Majed Saleh Ahmed Al-Jodawi
20. Hussam Abdulwali Ahmed Al-Moalmi
21. Raafat Amin Hazza Al-Humairi
22. Abdullah Mohammed Ghaleb Ruba’a
23. Mohammed Abdulwahab Mahdi Al-Haddad
24. Azzam Abdulghani Ali Al-Dhubaibi
25. Hamadan Mohammed Mohammed Al-Saifi
26. Yousif Nasser Ahmed Al-Kimim
27. Mohammed Yahya Mohammed Akiri
28. Abdulaziz Ahmed Mohammed Al-Hakami
29. Mohammed Salih Ahmed Mayas
30. Mohammed Hezam Ahmed Al-Yamani
The nine journalists and the 30 defendants in the Nasr Al-Salami Group are being held in the Security and Intelligence Prison in Sana’a, which is a prison that does not meet the required health and hygiene conditions. Detainees face ill-treatment by their fellow prisoners in addition to the psychological pain resulting from not seeing their families for a long time and facing the risk of contracting Covid-19 in an environment that is never conducive to proper health standards.
Other Journalists Arrested:
In the above picture, Abdulrahman, the son of detained photojournalist Abdullah Awad Bakir, is holding a sign with his father's image, demanding his release. He is a child with special needs whose father was taking care of him, and whose health and psychological condition worsened after his father’s arrest.
The prison authorities transferred Bakir to the hospital three times for treatment after his health deteriorated and local sources report that he was on hunger strike to protest his arrest.
On 27 May 2020, security forces in Hadramout Governorate arrested Bakir in the city of Mukalla. He is still being held in the Military Intelligence Directorate prison in Hadramout. For more details on his case, see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2404
On 08 July 2020, photojournalist Radwan Al-Hashedi (pictured above) was arrested upon arrival at Sayyun Airport in Hadramout Governorate, by the security forces who transferred him to the Political Security Prison in Marib Governorate.
Al-Hashedi had returned to his home country after more than two years spent in Egypt after leaving the city of Taiz, where he made great efforts to convey the suffering of the people of Taiz by publishing photographs and participating in various artistic events as a member of the team Taiz – Color of Life, which is according to its founders “an initiative that was launched to send the colours of life from Taiz to radiate a source for all that is beautiful.”
On 19 July 2020, his brother Nashwan Al-Hashedi posted on his Facebook page, “Unfortunately our country has yet to explain to us what the issue is.” There is no information yet about the reason for his arrest.
GCHR condemns the deliberate delay of the de facto authorities, the Houthis, in releasing the five journalists who were ordered released in April 2020. GCHR believes that keeping them in prison despite the court’s decision to release them, on the pretext of exchanging them with prisoners of war, 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 against the four journalists, as well as the 30 citizens involved in the Nasr Al-Salami case to be overturned, as it was imposed in violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
GCHR equally calls on all parties to the conflict to immediately release all the kidnapped or forcibly disappeared citizens, including journalists, such as photojournalists Abdullah Awad Bakir and Radwan Al-Hashedi, without any conditions.
The various authorities across Yemen must 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.