Yemen: Four Internet activists sentenced to prison, while deal reached to exchange 887 prisoners including journalists


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) welcomes the prisoner exchange agreement made in Yemen between various parties that will see four journalists released among hundreds of others, and calls on all parties to the conflict to release all prisoners of conscience and conduct a full exchange of all the prisoners of war. At the same time, GCHR is dismayed that four Internet activists have been sentenced to prison, among other violations. GCHR sends its sincere condolences to the Al-Mutawakel family following the untimely death of Dr. Elham Al-Mutawakel, whose husband was not among prisoners who will be released. 

Four Internet activists sentenced

On 21 March 2023, the Specialised Criminal Court of First Instance in the capital, Sana'a, issued its verdicts against four peaceful Internet activists. It sentenced Ahmed Yahya Allaw to three years in prison, Mustafa Mohammed Al-Moumri to a year and a half in prison, Ahmed Abdelkhaleq Hajar to a year in prison, and Hammoud Mohammed Al-Mesbahi to six months in prison. The court also ordered the four men to delete their YouTube channels and accounts from social networking sites, and said they would not be receiving items seized when they were arrested, including cameras, phones and one computer.

The conviction charges brought by the Specialised Criminal Prosecution against Al-Moumri, Hajar and Allaw included, "broadcasting false and malicious news, statements and rumours and broadcasting them on channels they established under their names on YouTube with the intention of disturbing public security and harming the public interest, "and "inciting people to chaos and going out to the streets, storming ministries, paralysing their function and not submitting to the applicable laws." Al-Mesbahi was convicted of compiling the contents of the videos published by Al-Moumri.

For more information on her case, see a previous appeal.

Woman human rights defender remains arbitrarily detained   


The Yemeni Security and Intelligence Service continues to arbitrarily detain 35-year-old human rights defender Fatima Saleh Al-Arwali, head of Al-Habitat Organisation for Human Rights Development, and prevent her from contacting her family or receiving visits by them.

Prominent human rights lawyer Abdulmajeed Sabra confirmed, in an appeal he posted on his Facebook page, that her brother, Tariq Saleh Al-Arwali, was prevented from visiting her by a representative of the Specialised Criminal Prosecution, who did not request the prison administration to allow this visit to take place despite an explicit directive from the head of the Specialised Criminal Prosecution to permit the visit.

Since her arrest on 14 August 2022, Al-Arwali has not been allowed to meet or contact her family members, in flagrant violation of local and international laws.

For more information on her case, see a previous appeal.

Respected academic dies of grief without seeing her detained husband

On 23 March 2023, Dr. Elham Al-Mutawakel wrote on her Facebook page: "When I heard of the recent agreement on the prisoner exchange deal, my sick heart beat with joy and hope that I might finally see my husband who has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for six years. I begged my heart to hold out for another few weeks until that meeting takes place, and I can rest assured that I left my children in their father's arms." She added, "But the news fell on me and my family like a thunderbolt when we heard that the deal did not include Dr. Mustafa Al-Mutawakel." She explained that, "Since my husband was arrested, I blamed his captors in the city of Ma'rib and Saudi Arabia, and demanded that they release him unconditionally because he is a civilian person who did not harm anyone or commit any crime, and his entire crime was his surname." She concluded, "But today, for the first time, I will admonish Ansar Allah (the Houthi group), who promised us that he would be on the exchange lists, but the result today says nothing but that they let us down."

On 27 March 2023, Dr. Al-Mutawakel, associate professor of law at Sana'a University, passed away before achieving her dream of being reunited with her kidnapped husband, Dr. Mustafa Al-Mutawakel.

Dr. Mustafa Al-Mutawakel, a 67-year-old Professor of Economics at the University of Sana’a, was arrested on 27 April 2017 by forces of the Saudi-sponsored Yemeni government at the Al-Falaj checkpoint in Ma’rib Governorate, northeast of Sana’a, while he was on a bus returning to Sana’a after his arrival through Seiyun Airport in Hadramout from Morocco after attending a scientific conference.

He was allowed to make a single call to his wife on the day of his arrest, but he remains in incommunicado detention to this day, without being allowed to appoint a lawyer or contact any of his family members. There are local reports stating that he was handed over to the Saudi authorities, who detained him in their prisons.

Internet activist dies in prison

On 19 March 2023, the Security Department of Ibb Governorate, which is under the control of the de facto government, the Houthi group, announced that Internet activist Hamdi Abdulrazzaq Al-Khawlani (Al-Mukhal) had died while he was in detention, after he allegedly tried to escape via one of the building's windows.

He was summoned a few days ago for interrogation, and he was detained, after he criticised the Houthis on his YouTube channel. He has previously been subjected to investigation, arrest and threats due to his peaceful activities on the Internet.

Prisoner exchange agreement finalised

On 21 March 2023, Abdulqadir Al-Murtada, the head of the National Committee for Prisoners, affiliated with the Houthi group, announced that the Red Cross would, within three weeks, carry out a prisoner exchange operation that includes the release of 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese, in exchange for 706 prisoners from the Houthi group, who will be released by the Yemeni government that is supported by Saudi Arabia.

Reliable reports received by GCHR confirmed that four journalists, Abdulkhaleq Ahmed Amran, Akram Saleh Al-Walidi, Al-Hareth Saleh Hamid and Tawfiq Mohammed Al-Mansouri, who were sentenced to death, will be included in this exchange agreement.


GCHR welcomes the prisoner exchange agreement and calls on all parties to the conflict in Yemen to release all prisoners of conscience and conduct a full exchange of all the prisoners of war. 

GCHR further calls on the de facto government in Sana'a, the Houthi group, the Yemeni government that is supported by Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the parties to the conflict in Yemen to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release the four Internet activists, Ahmed Yahya Allaw, Mustafa Mohammed Al-Moumri, Ahmed Abdelkhaleq Hajar and Hammoud Mohammed Al-Mesbahi, after overturning their sentences;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally release woman human rights defender Fatima Saleh Al-Arwali;
  3. Immediately and unconditionally put the efforts to ensure the release of Dr. Mustafa Al-Mutawakil;
  4. Conduct a thorough and comprehensive independent investigation of the death of Hamdi Abdul Razzaq Al-Khawlani (Al-Mukhal) in prison, and bring those responsible to justice;
  5. Respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and allow journalists to do their work; and
  6. Implement the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and in particular Rule V(1) which states, "The prison system should endeavor to minimise the differences between prison and free life."