AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthis agreed on Monday to exchange over 800 inmates in a deal monitored by the UN and the International Red Cross.
Representatives of the Yemeni government and the Houthis concluded the final day of this round of prisoner swap negotiations in Switzerland by announcing the release of 887 prisoners during the holy month of Ramadan, followed by another round of negotiations after the agreed-upon prisoners are released.
The deal has renewed optimism for the release of thousands more detainees in the coming months, as well as the signing of a peace deal to put an end to the war.
Abdulkader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthis’ prisoner exchange committee, said that the deal would result in the release of 706 Houthi inmates and 181 captives from the Yemeni government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen in three weeks.
The Yemeni government said in a statement that up to 706 Houthis would be “immediately” exchanged for 181 government inmates, including four journalists sentenced to death by the Houthis and 19 prisoners from the coalition.
The Houthis have also agreed to release former Defense Minister Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Subaihi; Gen. Nasser Mansour Hadi, the brother of former Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi; the abducted sons of former Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer; as well as Mohammed Abdullah Saleh and his cousin Afash, the siblings of Presidential Leadership Council member Tareq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis refused to release Gen. Faisal Rajab of the Yemeni army and Islah leader Mohammed Gahtan.
Despite criticism over the exchange of hundreds of Houthi combatants for Yemeni civilians, Yemenis hailed the prisoner swap deal and demanded its swift implementation.
“We hope that, unlike in the past, the Houthis will not violate this deal. We hope that the UN will exert direct pressure for the execution of this agreement prior to the beginning of Ramadan,” Hisham Al-Yousifi, a Yemeni journalist who was abducted by the Houthis in 2015 and released during a major prisoner swap in 2020, told Arab News.
Separately, the government of Yemen has accused the Houthis of killing an abducted Yemeni internet influencer in the province of Ibb following months of cruel maltreatment. Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said that the Houthis executed Hamdi Abdel-Razzaq, also known as Al-Mukahal, a social media influencer kidnapped by the Houthis in October for criticizing the militia’s corruption, its treatment of dissidents, and its role in exacerbating poverty.
Yemeni officials said that the Houthis had tortured the man for months before revealing his death on Sunday, saying that he committed suicide.
“The crime of liquidating the activist Abdel-Razzaq in the Houthi detention center in Ibb is not the first such incident. Hundreds of abductees and forcibly disappeared met the same fate in illegal militia detention centers,” the Yemeni minister said on Twitter.
Last year, Abdel-Razzaq appeared in widely disseminated videos on social media platforms, fiercely denouncing the Houthi movement and its leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi for stealing state money, failing to pay public workers in regions under their control, and repressing dissidents with extreme force.