Yemen: Five journalists finally released six months after judge’s order, while four others still facing execution
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) welcomes the news that on 15 October 2020, five imprisoned Yemeni journalists, Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom, Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi, Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Shihab, Essam Amin Balgheeth and Hassan Abdullah Annab, were finally released as part of an exchange of prisoners between the Houthis in Sanaa'a and the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. They arrived at the Sayoun International Airport in the Hadhramaut region on a flight from Sana'a. Meanwhile, four of their colleagues sentenced in the same case are still facing execution and GCHR calls for the death sentence to immediately be overturned.
Although the verdict by the Specialised Criminal Court in the capital Sana’a on 11 April 2020 ordered the release of Tarmoom, Al-Yousefi, Al-Shihab, Balgheeth and Annab after five years of incarceration, the five men were not released until six months later. All official procedures were completed to implement the court’s ruling, including the submission of guarantees and the Public Prosecution’s order to release them; but the de facto authorities, the Houthis, decided to wait and exchange them with prisoners of war from other parties. Journalist Salah Mohammed Al-Qaedi was the only one among the group of 10 journalists sentenced, who was freed on 23 May 2020.
The ten journalists were arrested in 2015 but not charged until three years later, when they were charged with spreading false news “in support of the crimes of Saudi aggression and its allies against the Republic of Yemen.” The journalists were also accused of “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, Sana'a.”
The official verdict in the case was finally received by defence lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra on 09 August 2020, some four months after the journalists were sentenced on 11 April 2020. In addition to the court's lack of impartiality, false accusations provided as evidence, and death sentence handed down to four journalists, the court granted the Ministry of Information and the Syndicate of Journalists the right to "present before the competent court evidence against those sentenced for violating the media's code of honour and the press law." GCHR believes that this falls outside the court's jurisdiction and the judge should not have included it in the verdict.
The judge sentenced six of the journalists to time already served in prison, or approximately five years, and four others to death. 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.
Meanwhile, the four journalists sentenced to death on charges of “spying” and “spreading false news”, Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri, are still in the Security and Intelligence Prison in Sana'a. The defense team is still preparing the file for their appeal, which is now being deliberated by the Public Prosecution, before being submitted to the Specialised Criminal Court Appeals Division.
In prison, they have experienced ill treatment, and are deprived of visits or regular communications with their families. Detainees face 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.
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.
GCHR calls on the various authorities in Yemen to:
- Immediately suspend the death penalty sentence imposed on the four journalist and allow them to appeal their conviction in a court that uphold international standards of law;
- Ensure that all prisoners in Yemen are being held in sanitary conditions with the proper protective equipment;
- Allow all prisoners access to their families, including by phone or video, until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; and
- Uphold the right to freedom of expression and allow all human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and Internet activists 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.