New harrowing testimony collected by Amnesty International experts in Yemen reveal how members of the Huthi armed group are torturing protesters in a bid to dissuade dissent.
“The Huthi stooped to a dangerous new level of intimidation and violence to strike fear into anyone protesting their rule,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, currently in Yemen.
“Testimonies reveal how protestors have been detained and tortured for days on end. The safety of all those who dare to speak out against the Huthi rule is on the line.”
Among those who spoke to Amnesty International are Ali Taher al-Faqih, 34, and ‘Abdeljalil al-Subari, 40, who were seized during a peaceful demonstration in Sana’a on 11 February (held to commemorate the 11 February 2011 uprising). The two men were arrested alongside Salah ‘Awdh al-Bashri, a 35-year-old father of seven, who later died from the injuries he suffered after hours of torture.
The three, alongside a fourth activist who was not tortured, were taken to an unknown location, where they were held in a basement until the evening of 13 February.
When Amnesty International met the men on 15 February the marks and scars of their torture were still very evident with deep bruises and, in the case of Abdeljalil al-Subari, open wounds on their buttocks.
Ali Taher al-Faqih told Amnesty International: “The first to be taken was Salah [al-Bashri]. I did not see him again until we were released at about 2 am (on 14 February). Salah could not move or stand, not even when we tried to help him up, and could not speak. He just whispered ‘I’m thirsty’.”
“We went to hospital, where Salah was given some basic care. There were Huthis in the hospital, some in military wear, and we were afraid that they would abduct us again so we left the hospital and drove home [two hours away], but Salah’s conditions deteriorated and he died on the way.”
Ali Taher al-Faqih gave details of the interrogation he endured:
“They first sat me down and asked me about my job, the demonstrations I took part in, the leaders of the protests, my relations with the US embassy and with organizations opposed to Ansarullah (the Huthi political wing). They then blindfolded and gagged me. They tied my hands behind my back, bound my feet, made me lie face down on a sort of narrow table and started beating me with some sort of baton on the buttocks. The beating went on for a long time, maybe a couple of hours. The pain was excruciating. They kept telling me to confess. When they finally stopped beating me I was only semi-conscious. They had to help me up.”
Amnesty International also spoke to Fouad Ahmad Jaber al-Hamdani, a well-known 34-year-old activist, who was abducted from a very small demonstration on the morning of 31 January. He was held for 13 days in four different locations and was also tortured. He still has deep bruising on his lower back.
“They blindfolded and gagged me, tied my hands and feet, tied me face down to a narrow bench, and beat me on the buttocks and lower back with a baton or iron bar until I fainted. They said ‘will you talk or shall we make you talk?’ They accused me of getting money from the US and Saudi Arabia and of links with Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and certain figures associated with the previous regime. After four hours of continuous beatings, during which I fainted several times, I agreed to write a confession. They then untied me, warned me not to organize demonstrations or contact Huthi opponents, and drove me to Zubeiri Street. They dumped me by the roadside. I could not move and lay there until a passer-by rescued me.”
In an earlier case, 21-year-old student activist Ahmad al-Thubhani was seized following a protest on the morning of 7 February near the New Sana’a University. Five members of the Huthi armed group followed the taxi he was travelling in, stopped it and seized him. He was held for five days in a house next to the residence of former President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi where he was tortured.
He told Amnesty International: “After I told them that I was against militias, they whipped me 20 times in a row, mostly on my back and legs, and forced me to write down names of protest leaders and activists”. Photographs of his scars examined by Amnesty International are consistent with his story.
“The Huthis must put an immediate stop to their illegal tactics of arbitrary detentions, torture other ill-treatment. Yemen’s General Prosecutor must promptly investigate these and other similar cases and bring those responsible to justice,” said Donatella Rovera.
The Huthis, mostly members of the (northern) Zaidi Shi’a minority who were repeatedly targeted by the regime of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (in six conflicts) between 2004 and 2010, are now allegedly targeting their critics and subjecting them to some of the same human rights violations which were inflicted on them by the previous regime.
The group took over some army and security positions in Sana'a in September 2014. By the third week of January 2015 they had attacked military positions, the Presidential compounds and government buildings. This led to the resignation of President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi and his government and the Huthis becoming the de-facto rulers of the capital and other parts of Yemen.
They have been consolidating their hold on Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and the country as a whole. On 6 February they dissolved parliament and issued a constitutional declaration mandating the creation of a transitional presidential council which will act as a government for an interim period of two years.
The move effectively ended the (largely unfulfilled) reconciliation power-sharing initiative negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council to end the 2011 uprising which ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh after his 33-year-rule.