Yemen: Four journalists sentenced to death face appeals court amid accusations against their defense team
Four journalists in Yemen awaiting release after being moved off death row are once again at risk of being sentenced to death as the initial ruling against them will be appealed, amid false accusations being leveled against the defense team. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for their immediate and unconditional release, noting that the Public Prosecution had ordered their release 15 months ago.
On 29 May 2022, the four journalists, Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri, are scheduled to appear before the Specialised Criminal Appeals Court (Division) in the capital, Sana'a.
The four journalists were convicted on 11 April 2020 by the Specialised Criminal Appeals Court in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, which is controlled by Houthi authorities. They were sentenced to death on charges of spying and spreading false news.
On 22 April 2020, the four journalists filed an appeal against their sentence. Human rights lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra began the appeals process after receiving a new power of attorney on 20 April 2020 from the four journalists to defend them.
In October 2020, the four journalists had been transferred from the Security and Intelligence Prison to the Exchange House, which is a prison that holds prisoners whom the de facto government (the Houthi group) decides to exchange with Houthi prisoners of war held by other parties to the conflict. The exchange house is located in the central security camp in the centre of Sana'a. The prisoner exchange operations are supervised by the Chairman of the Houthi Prisoner Exchange Committee, Abdulqadir Al-Murtada.
On 28 February 2021, the Specialised Criminal Appeals Court in Sana’a held its first hearing to consider the appeal case presented by the defense team of the four journalists against the death sentence. At the hearing, the Public Prosecution decided to release them as part of the war prisoner’s exchange operations.
The four journalists have faced constant suffering at the exchange house, and their families have not been able to visit them yet. Likewise, the employees of the prison administration have been threatening them with the execution of the death sentence if they are not released as part of a prisoner exchange deal. Health care is not fully available. Journalist Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri suffers from a deteriorating health condition, and his request for treatment at his personal expense has not received a response.
On 21 August 2021, GCHR documented , that the four journalists were attacked and tortured in the Exchange House where they are being held. After the attack, they were placed in solitary confinement, where they were subjected to continuous physical torture, according to GCHR’s sources.
Abdulmajeed Sabra, a prominent human rights lawyer, was accused by the Public Prosecution of “cooperating with countries of aggression,” according to a memorandum submitted to the Specialised Criminal Appeals Court. The charge was laid against him in response to his defense of the four journalists despite his efficient performance, based on his legal expertise, to defend the four journalists.
The defense team had submitted a memorandum to the Specialised Criminal Appeals Court regarding its lack of jurisdiction to consider the journalists’ case, and cited several reasons confirming the invalidity of the charges against them as well as the initial ruling. The memorandum stated that the ruling “was issued by a non-competent court, which is the Criminal Court (Division), considering that the Press and Publications’ Public Prosecution Office and its Court have jurisdiction in this case, due to the fact that the accused are journalists and that they transmitted the news correctly.”
GCHR expresses its full solidarity with prominent human rights lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra, and calls on the authorities in Sana'a to stop harassing and targeting him, as he is performing his work as a lawyer with integrity, perseverance and courage.
Once again, GCHR condemns the torture of journalists and their prolonged detention in the Exchange House after their sentencing, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. GCHR calls on the Houthi authorities to end the practice of torture in detention, and to abolish the use of the death penalty. GCHR also calls on the United Nations to continue to pressure the Houthi authorities to release all journalists and allow them to carry out their work without hindrance, and to respect the right to freedom of expression.