A Specialised Criminal Court court controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthis sentenced 35 pro-government MPs, in their absence, to death and confiscated their properties early last week (Tuesday 3 March, 2020). The group of MPs were charged with treason for supporting the internationally recognised government and military operations led by the Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore the administration of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.
The Yemen conflict, which began in late 2014, has since rapidly evolved into a proxy war between the two main geopolitical powers of the region; with Iran backing the Houthi forces, and Saudi Arabia – backed by the western coalition – propping up the internationally recognised government.
Over 100,000 people have died since the start of the conflict, including more than 12,000 civilians.
Convicted lawmakers included the house Speaker, Sultan Al Barakani and his deputy Abdul Aziz Jubari; Ameen Al-Okaimi, governor of Jawf; Ali Amrani, Yemen’s envoy to Jordan, and several former ministers, tribal leaders and businessmen.
Al-Barakani had previously complained to Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, that Houthis had confiscated the property of 35 Yemeni MPs. Houthi extremists have stepped up their legal attacks on lawmakers since early last year when MPs met in Seiyun in Yemen’s Hadramout province for the first session of the Parliament since the beginning of the war.
The UN human rights office has voiced its concern over the trial with human rights spokesperson, Liz Throssell saying:
“We are extremely concerned by the overall conduct of the trial and that it is politically motivated, as well its failure to comply with international norms and standards”
The human rights office went on to say that the death penalty is an extreme form of punishment reserved for the “most serious crimes” involving intentional killing and should only be imposed, if atall, after a fair trial that respects due process as stipulated in international human rights law.
After the trial, armed Houthi fighters stormed the properties of the sentenced men and ordered local banks to have their accounts frozen.
Commentators have said the Houthis are targeting opponents to justify confiscating properties and intimate those who consider fleeing areas under rebel control.
Speaking to The National, Mohammed Askar, the Yemeni Minister of Human Rights said:
“Such verdicts are illegal and baseless because it is issued by an illegal court controlled by the Houthi group…The Houthi rebels hold such illegal trials to terrorize their political opponents and to loot their private possessions, so these trials are unlawful and a matter of nonsense.”
Pro-government lawmakers who have successfully fled Sanaa have reported that Houthis have barred their peers from leaving the capital and forced them to attend the rebel controlled Parliament. Houthi controlled courts have previously passed down similar sentences, including to President Rabbo Mansour Hadi, his deputy Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer and the Prime Minister Maeen Saeed and other ministers to death for treason.
Independent Yemeni lawyers have also condemned the verdict for being politically motivated and labelled the court unlawful.
Lawyer Hani Al Aswadi, head of the My Right Centre for Human Rights and Freedoms said:
“This verdict comes as a continuation for the violations practised by the Houthi militia in Yemen, which illegally controls the judicial system in northern Yemen…Additionally, the indictment submitted by the public prosecution is also a political rather than legal one. The continuous silence by international bodies over the Houthi violations against the international humanitarian law and human rights law will encourage them to commit further violations.”
The Houthi rebels ousted the government in Sanaa in late 2014 after battling their way from their tribal homeland in the north. Mr Hadi and the government fled to Aden and then to Riyadh, and the Arab Coalition intervened to push the Iran-backed militant group back.
On the battlefields, fighting continues between government troops and Houthis in the province of Jawf and Nehim district, near Houthi-controlled Sanaa.
Government officials say that militants executed several opponents shortly after seizing control of Hazem on Sunday (March 1, 2020).