LONDON: Four Yemeni journalists formerly imprisoned and tortured by the Houthi militia have called for the release of four of their colleagues currently facing the death penalty.
They were among 10 journalists arrested in the capital Sanaa in 2015, and say they were subjected to torture, including being starved and placed in solitary confinement, before being put on trial in 2020.
All 10, having been detained shortly after the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, were convicted of “collaborating with the enemy” and “spreading false news and rumors,” but six were released and left the country.
Now living in Cairo, Abdel-Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Hamid and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, alongside family members of the four facing execution, say not enough is being done to secure their colleagues’ freedom.
“We would need to write books to (fully) describe what we went through and suffered in these detention facilities. Only God knows the hardships and suffering of our families in our absence,” they said in a statement.
“And there are still four journalists, who were sentenced to death inside these dark prisons, waiting for fate to intervene to save their lives and bring them back to their children.”
Amnesty International, which said the trial was based on “trumped up charges,” added that none of the detained had been permitted a lawyer or family members to be present, and had seen appeals rejected.
The mother of one detainee told The Observer: “My son is just a civilian, he’s not a soldier, he didn’t fight anyone, he wasn’t involved in politics. He didn’t deserve something like this for seven years.”
She added: “We went everywhere, we talked to everyone but no one really helped us. I’m crying everyday, and I can’t sleep.”
Al-Mansouri’s brother Abdullah said: “We still don’t know why some of the journalists were released and others condemned to death. They were targeted to make an example for others.”
Adding that his brother had been “a healthy young man when he was first detained,” he said the Houthis had denied him medical treatment in captivity, leading to him developing diabetes and kidney issues.
Buthaina Faroq, a Yemeni activist who was forced to flee the country, said the journalists still in captivity are likely being used as leverage.
“These four colleagues are being used by the Houthis as pawns, to blackmail both the international community and the Yemeni government,” she added.
“Every single day is important for them stuck in prison. The Houthis are unpredictable, they could decide to keep them or execute them at any moment.”
According to Reporters Without Borders, the four detained journalists are among at least 20 members of the media being held by the Houthis or by Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Throughout the conflict, the Houthis have been known to target journalists. Their leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin Al-Houthi is known to have called journalists “more dangerous than those fighting on the front lines.”
As well as torture, the Houthis are thought to deliberately imprison people in military areas likely to be targeted by coalition airstrikes.