AL-MUKALLA: A Houthi-controlled court in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, sentenced four Yemeni YouTubers to different prison sentences on Tuesday and shut down their internet channels after accusing them of inciting the public against the militia, rekindling indignation against the Yemeni militia and their habit of punishing dissidents through courts.
Abdul Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer who defends abductees held in Houthi prisons, said that the Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in Sanaa sentenced Ahmad Elaw to three years in prison, Mustafa Al-Mawmari to one and a half years, Ahmed Hajjar to one year, and Hamoud Al-Mesbahi to six months, accusing them of circulating false information to damage national security.
The court ordered the closure of their YouTube channels and a fine of 10 million Yemeni riyals ($1=547 riyals in Houthi-controlled territories). The court also ordered the confiscation of Elaw’s mobile phones, cameras, and bank accounts.
Waddah Qutaish, the YouTubers’ attorney, said on his Facebook page that the judge read out the judgment without providing any grounds or evidence for granting it, calling the sentence “unjust” and intended to stifle free speech, and stating that he has filed an appeal.
The four YouTubers were apprehended by the Houthis from various places in Sanaa and at various periods in December and January.
The Houthis abducted Hajjar, a well-known Yemeni comedian, actor, and YouTuber, as he walked down Al-Zubairi street in Sanaa in December, just days after he appeared in a video criticizing the Houthis for overtaxing people, failing to pay government salaries, corruption, and failing to address aggravating poverty.
The Houthis kidnapped the other three YouTubers in January after they released videos showing support for Hajar, calling for his release, and criticizing the Houthis once more.
Al-Mawmari is the most popular YouTuber with over 2 million YouTube subscribers and tens of thousands of Facebook fans, followed by Elaw with 800,000 YouTube subscribers.
On Monday, Houthi security services released a video of the YouTubers confessing to inciting the public to revolt against the movement, as well as creating fake content and social media accounts, apologizing for criticizing the militia, and blaming “aggression” for the worsening economic situation in Sanaa, referring to the Yemeni government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.
The ruling has provoked protests against the Houthis, who have been accused of attempting to muzzle dissenting voices. “Al-Houthi is an unruly gang that utilizes the court as a weapon for repression…and the abolition of individual liberties,” Mohammed Al-Ahmadi, a Yemeni journalist, said on Facebook.