Yesterday (11 April 2021) marked the year anniversary of four Yemeni nationals being sentenced to death – merely for legitimately carrying out their jobs as journalists.
In 2015, ten Yemeni journalists were abducted and arrested on trumped up charges by the Iranian backed Houthi rebels – the de facto rulers in large swathes of Northern Yemen. The arrests were met with international condemnation and six of the ten journalists were subsequently released; albeit after years of arbitrary detainment.
However in April of 2020, a Houthi-run specialised court sentenced Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Homaid, Abdel-Khaleq Amran and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri to death.
Before being abducted, the four journalists played leading roles in a Sanaa-based network of media outlets.
Many humanitarian organisations have called for the unconditional release of these journalists, including Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In May 2020, in an appeal launched on Press Freedom Day, the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) orchestrated an open letter calling on the journalists to be pardoned and all media workers detained in Yemen to be released. The letter was co-signed by 180 individuals and organisations including parliamentarians, award winning journalists and human rights activists from around the world.
Furthermore, in January 2021, IOHR raised the case of Abdel-Khaleq Amran and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri with the United Nations Working Group of Arbitrary Detention; highlighting how the Houthi’s had acted in complete contravention of both international and domestic laws, denied the journalists the right to a fair trial and had subjected the journalists to torture.
Abdullah al-Mansouri, the brother of Tawfiq al-Mansouri, has relayed how his brother has become seriously ill with kidney problems and diabetes and has been denied any form of medical treatment. Abdullah al-Mansouri said:
“My brother was a healthy young man when he was first detained…We still don’t know why some of the journalists were released and others condemned to death sentence. They were targeted to make an example for others.”
In reality, their detention and subsequent sentences are the result of the malign tactics used by the Houthis rebels.
Since the start of the Yemeni conflict, the Houthis have routinely imprisoned and tortured those suspected of sympathising with the Saudi-backed coalition. These individuals are then used as bargaining chips in prisoner swaps, or detained in locations believed to be likely targets of coalition airstrikes: two imprisoned journalists, Abdullah Qabel and Yousif al-Aizari, died when a military site in Dhamar was bombed in 2015.
In June 2019, an IOHR spokesperson said:
“Journalists are at considerable risk during times of conflict as they are often working to expose corruption and violations on the ground. The international community must act swiftly to ensure the safety of journalists, particularly in conflict zones and most definitely in protecting the journalists jailed in Yemen for nothing more than doing their jobs,”
Journalists have been particularly targeted in Yemen, with countless reports highlighting individuals being assaulted on the streets for nothing more than carrying cameras and other equipment that can identify them as a journalist.
The stifling of free press means that it is hard to accurately gauge the extent of the issue, however as of 2019 the International Observatory of Human Rights believe that at least 35 journalists had died in Yemen since the start of the conflict. An additional 53 journalists were kidnapped or arrested over the same period.
The targeting of journalists is not isolated to areas under Houthi control; Forces loyal to the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council have also been accused of imprisoning and torturing journalists and violating press freedoms.
However, at the time of writing around 20 Yemeni journalists remain imprisoned by the Houthis or Al-Qaeda. Houthi rebel leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi has previously stated journalists are “more dangerous than those fighting on the frontlines”.
Lyn Mallouf, Middle East Research director for Amnesty International has said:
“Even before the COVID-19 outbreak in Yemen, detainees’ access to adequate health care was lacking. One can only imagine their loved ones’ worry for their wellbeing in this dire situation…The Houthi de facto authorities must immediately quash their death sentences, drop all pending charges and release all journalists imprisoned for their work.”
In 2020, Yemen was ranked 167th in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The press freedom organisation noted that:
“Yemen’s division into areas controlled by the Houthi rebels, the so-called legitimate government and southern separatists has exacerbated the media’s polarization. Neutral reporting on the war is rare, as the various parties to the conflict control the media…Some journalists gave up journalism to avoid reprisals but that has not stopped them being persecuted for what they wrote in the past.”
One year on from their sentencing, the four journalists remain at risk of their imminent execution. IOHR will continue to advocate on behalf of these individuals through our #SaveYemeniJournalists campaign, but more must be done on an international scale to call out the actions of those maliciously targeting journalists.
Find out more about our #SaveYemeniJournalists campaign, including an exclusive investigation into the case of the ten Yemeni journalists, here:
Watch the corresponding video into the investigation here: