Yemen journalist captives tell of five-year torture ordeal in Houthi prisons

Special Freed Arab coalition prisoners wave as they arrive after their release in a prisoner swap, at Sayoun airport in Yemen on October 15, 2020. (REUTERS/File photo)
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Updated 07 December 2020

Yemen journalist captives tell of five-year torture ordeal in Houthi prisons

Yemen journalist captives tell of five-year torture ordeal in Houthi prisons
  • Five detainees describe being beaten, abused and denied food, water and medication

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Five prisoners held by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen have described how they were systematically tortured, beaten and abused by their captors for more than five years.

Throughout their ordeal the men were shuttled from cell to cell, kept in solitary confinement and denied adequate food, water and medication.

The men believe they contracted COVID-19 in May this year, when they suffered from fatigue, breathing difficulties, joint pain and headaches. Their prison doctor denied they were infected with the coronavirus, and advised their captors to add onions and oranges to their food. 

Hisham Tarmoum, Hassan Annab, Isam Balghaith, Haytham Al-Shehab and Hisham Al-Yousofi were among nine journalists seized in a raid on a hotel in Sanaa on June, 9, 2015, as the Houthis cracked down on journalists, activists and politicians who opposed their rule.

Balghaith said dozens of heavily armed Houthis stormed into their hotel to arrest them, and treated them like dangerous criminals.

“I came out of the bathroom and saw armed men inside the room. They said nothing when we asked them about their identity. They seized our mobiles and laptops and tossed us into military vehicles. They behaved as if they were about to storm a military outpost.”

Annab said he was beaten when the Houthis found a pen inside a cell during a search. Prison director Yahiya Sarea and other guards took turns torturing him. “He was hitting my back from head to toe with sticks from 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. He wanted to know how I got the pen.”

When Annab refused to speak, they threw him into a small, dark, airless room. “I could not sleep as there was not enough oxygen in the room,” he said.

Al-Shehab said the Houthis gave them inadequate medication as their health deteriorated.

“They prescribed effervescent tablets and sleeping bills when I asked for medicine for flu. I suffered from severe pain in my head after taking their drugs,” he said.

The men were released in October as part of a prisoner swap. “We spent 1,955 days in prisons,” Al-Yousofi said. “There were 1,955 moments of pain and deprivation.”