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

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.”


Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
Updated 57 min 59 sec ago

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high

Iraq records 12,000 COVID-19 infections in new daily high
  • Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines
  • More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraq has recorded 12,180 Covid infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Monday, the highest number detected in a single day so far in the pandemic.
More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq, where the health infrastructure is dilapidated.
Much of the 40-million-strong population remains skeptical of vaccines, with only 1.3 million having been inoculated, the health ministry says.
It is not clear how many of those have received two jabs.
Monday’s record “unfortunately, does not surprise us because of a lack of respect for mandatory hygiene measures such as a ban on gatherings and mask wearing,” ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr said.
“This increase is probably due to the large number of gatherings during the Eid” Al-Adha festival marking the end of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, he said.
The authorities have struggled to persuade people to get vaccinated and to abide by measures such as wearing face masks in public.
Earlier this month, Sarmad Al-Qarlousi, who heads Baghdad’s Al-Kindi Hospital, warned that unless more people get jabbed, Iraq will spiral toward “an epidemiological catastrophe.”
The ministry spokesman has blamed a reluctance to get inoculated on a “misinformation campaign which preceded the arrival of the vaccine.”
On Monday Badr renewed his appeal to Iraqis to get vaccinated, saying the spike in infections is putting pressure on the country’s fragile health infrastructure.
Two huge fires at Covid-19 hospital wards in April and in mid-July killed more than 120 people, sparking anger and defiance among Iraqis who blame corruption for the failing health system.


UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 26 July 2021

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,549 new COVID-19 cases, 7 deaths in last 24 hours
  • 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683

DUBAI: The UAE on Monday reported 1,549 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths overnight, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 673,185 with 1,927 fatalities related to the highly contagious disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention also said that 1,510 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing patient recoveries to 650,683.

An 232,389 additional COVID-19 tests were also over the past 24 hours, the ministry added in a statement published by state news agency WAM.

The UAE’s aggressive vaccination drive has resulted into a 77.85 percent of the population receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 68.75 percent have been fully vaccinated.

The total number of doses provided stands at 16,495,917 with a rate of vaccine distribution of 166.79 doses per 100 people, the ministry reported.


Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
Updated 26 July 2021

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq

Biden, Iraqi PM to announce end of US combat mission in Iraq
  • Plan to shift the American military mission will be spelled out in a broader
  • The Daesh is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are expected to announce on Monday that they’ve come to an agreement to end the US military’s combat mission in Iraq by the end of the year, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The plan to shift the American military mission, whose stated purpose is to help Iraq defeat the Daesh group, to a strictly advisory and training role by year’s end — with no US troops in a combat role — will be spelled out in a broader communique to be issued by the two leaders following their White House meeting on Monday afternoon, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the yet to be announced plan.
The official said the Iraqi security forces are “battle tested” and have proved themselves “capable” of protecting their country. Still, the Biden administration recognizes that Daesh remains a considerable threat, the official said.
Indeed, the Daesh terror organization is a shell of its former self since it was largely routed on the battlefield in 2017. Still, it has shown it can still carry out high-casualty attacks. Last week, the group claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens in a busy suburban Baghdad market.
The US and Iraq agreed in April that the US transition to a train-and-advise mission meant the US combat role would end, but they didn’t settle on a timetable for completing that transition. The announcement comes less than three months before parliamentary elections slated for Oct. 10.
Al-Kadhimi faces no shortage of problems. Iranian-backed militias operating inside Iraq have stepped up attacks against US forces in recent months, and a series of devastating hospital fires that left dozens of people dead and soaring coronavirus infections have added fresh layers of frustration for the nation.
For Al-Kadhimi, the ability to offer the Iraqi public a date for the end of the US combat presence could be a feather in his cap ahead of the election.
Biden administration officials say Al-Kadhimi also deserves credit for improving Iraq’s standing in the Mideast.
Last month, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi visited Baghdad for joint meetings — the first time an Egyptian president has made an official visit since the 1990s, when ties were severed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
In March, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq, praying among ruined churches in Mosul, a former IS stronghold, and meeting with the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
The US and Iraq have been widely expected to use the face-to-face meeting to announce plans for the end of the combat mission, and Al-Kadhimi before his trip to Washington made clear that he believes it’s time for the US to wind down the combat mission.
“There is no need for any foreign combat forces on Iraqi soil,” Al-Kadhimi said.
The US troop presence has stood at about 2,500 since late last year when former President Donald Trump ordered a reduction from 3,000.
The announcement to end the US combat mission in Iraq comes as the US is in the final stages of ending its war in Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush launched the war in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The US mission of training and advising Iraqi forces has its most recent origins in former President Barack Obama’s decision in 2014 to send troops back to Iraq. The move was made in response to the Daesh group’s takeover of large portions of western and northern Iraq and a collapse of Iraqi security forces that appeared to threaten Baghdad. Obama had fully withdrawn US forces from Iraq in 2011, eight years after the US invasion.
The distinction between combat troops and those involved in training and advising can be blurry, given that the US troops are under threat of attack. But it is clear that US ground forces have not been on the offensive in Iraq in years, other than largely unpublicized special operations missions aimed at Daesh group militants.
Pentagon officials for years have tried to balance what they see as a necessary military presence to support the Iraqi government’s fight against IS with domestic political sensitivities in Iraq to a foreign troop presence. A major complication for both sides is the periodic attacks on bases housing US and coalition troops by Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran.
The vulnerability of US troops was demonstrated most dramatically in January 2020 when Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in western Iraq. No Americans were killed, but dozens suffered traumatic brain injury from the blasts. That attack came shortly after a US drone strike killed Iranian military commander Qassim Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis at Baghdad International Airport.
The US military mission since 2014 has been largely focused on training and advising Iraqi forces. In April, in a joint statement following a US-Iraqi meeting in Washington, they declared, “the mission of US and coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq” at a time to be determined later.
Monday’s communique is also expected to detail US efforts to assist the Iraqi government’s COVID-19 response, education system and energy sector.


Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan

Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan
Updated 42 min 14 sec ago

Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan

Lebanon's PM-designate says he can form government to implement French plan
  • France's plan includes a government of specialists capable of initiating enough reforms to attract foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon's new prime minister-desginate Najib Mikati said on Monday he would work to form a government and implement a French plan to save the country from its crippling financial crisis.
"I don't have a magic wand and can't perform miracles... but I have studied the situation for a while and have international guarantees," Mikati said after he won a majority of votes in parliamentary consultations to be nominated.
France's plan includes a government of specialists capable of initiating enough reforms to attract foreign aid.


Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks

Tunisians celebrate government ousting with cheers, fireworks
  • Tunisia’s military stop Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering the parliament building early on Monday
  • ‘The president was very brave ... we know this is not a coup’

Soon after Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said he had ousted the government, tens of thousands of people poured into city streets to applaud a move decried by his critics as a coup.
As they cheered, ululated, honked car horns and let off fireworks, Said’s supporters revelled in his decision and in the perceived downfall of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament and his main political opponent.
It showed how a decade after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, street activism remains a potentially powerful force — and one that could lead to confrontation after Ennahda called for people to protest against Saied.
Tunisia’s military stopped Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi from entering the parliament building early on Monday, a witness said, after Saied declared he had frozen the body’s activities.
The crowds late on Sunday were defying a COVID-19 curfew as they gathered in local neighborhoods and cities throughout the North African country and along the main Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis that has long served as the epicenter of any protests in the capital.

A military vehicle drives on a street as supporters of Tunisia's President Kais Saied gather after he dismissed the government and froze parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia July 25, 2021. (Reuters)

 

Thousands of people including many families walked along the tree-lined avenue, raising national flags, dancing and lighting red flares.

“The president was very brave... we know this is not a coup,” said Amira Abid, a woman in Tunis’ town center as she kissed a Tunisian flag.


Soon afterwards, Saied himself arrived to meet jubilant supporters in the very street where the biggest protests took place in 2011 during a revolution whose own democratic legacy now hangs in the balance.
Saied’s critics fear his move to dismiss the government and freeze parliament is part of a shift away from democracy and a return to the autocratic rule of the past — concerns he rejected in public statements as he denied conducting a coup.
As helicopters hovered above the crowds supporting his move, the people on the streets cast Ennahda as the cause of Tunisia’s failures over the past decade to overcome political paralysis and achieve prosperity.
“Today, today, Ennahda ended today,” sang young men in the Omrane Superieur district of the capital.
Nearby, as families stood with their children and raised their phones to the record the moment, a man walking with his daughter said “today is our Eid (holiday).”