ALEXANDRIA: Houthi rebels in Yemen have been holding a young journalist abducted in Sanaa for more than a week, as the militia’s clampdown on outspoken academics, journalists and social media activists intensifies.
After detaining Younis Abdul Sallam, the Iran-backed Houthis waited more than 10 days before informing a local lawyer of his whereabouts, his family told Arab News on Thursday.
“Younis is being held in the intelligence service office,” said a relative who asked to remain anonymous. “We do not know why they detained him and they refuse to answer our calls.”
Abdel Majeed Sabra, a lawyer who defends abductees in Houthi jails, said abducted journalists face mistreatment at the hands of the notorious intelligence agency. He called on local rights groups and activists, including the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, to put pressure on the Houthis to release Abdul Sallam immediately.
“The journalists’ union should use all means to secure his release,” he said in a message posted on Facebook.
Abdul Sallam, who is from the southern city of Taiz but has lived in Sanaa for several years, graduated from Sanaa University’s College of Media in 2017. He is not a particularly high-profile journalist but has posted messages critical of the Houthis on social media.
“The moment one of their preachers shouts from a nearby mosque, warning of the dangers from America and Israel, the group begins targeting populated areas in Marib,” he said in a message posted on Facebook on June 10, in which he criticizing the Houthis for launching a deadly offensive on the central city of Marib and targeting residential areas in the city. “How can normal human beings coexist with them?” he asked.
Based on his own horrific jail experience, Haytham Al-Shihab, one of five Yemeni journalists released from Houthi prisons during a prisoner swap in October last year, said Abdul Sallam will have been put in solitary confinement, had his name replaced on documents with a number, and been subjected to intense interrogations.
“During the evenings of the first month of his detention, he will be exhausted and tired from many long interrogations, accusations and fabrications that will deprive him of sleep,” Al-Shihab said.
The Houthis are not only targeting journalists. Residents in Houthi-held Sanaa said the militia abducted academic and businessman Osama Al-Shibami weeks ago and refuse to say where he is being held. His friends and students condemned the Houthis for targeting a man they described as a good, apolitical person with no enemies, and called for his immediate release.
On Aug. 4, unidentified assailants shot and killed Mohammed Ali Naeem, a professor at Sanaa University, as he left a friend’s house in the city. It happened shortly after he posted a message on social media demanding the Houthis and the Yemeni government increase the salaries of employees. The Houthis denied they were responsible and said they had captured a man who allegedly confessed to killing the professor over an old feud.
Residents in other Houthi–controlled areas, including Amran and Dhamar, said the militia has abducted several journalists and social-media activists who had criticized the rebels’ crackdown on singing and weddings, and exposed corruption among the movement’s officials.
According to analysts and authorities, Yemen has experienced the biggest displacement of journalists and activists in its history since the Houthis seized power in the country in 2014.
Najeeb Ghallab, an undersecretary at Yemen’s Information Ministry and a political analyst, told Arab News that more than 1,000 journalists were forced to flee the country after the Houthis raided and looted media offices and suppressed their work.
“Due to problems, corruption, sabotage, systematic robberies and mismanagement by the Houthis in Sanaa, opposition began to grow, not only among journalists but intellectuals and academics,” he added.