Accounts of prison torture forces Houthi leader to investigate
The brutal stories of abuse given by former detainees of the rebel group sparked condemnation from government officials
Beaten with rods, drilled with power tools and left paralysed, the recent revelations of brutal torture of Yemeni detainees in Houthi rebel prisons has spurred one of the group’s top leaders, Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, to order an investigation.
While the rebel leader called the reported torture “not part of our norms or values”, former detainees told The National of widespread, systematic abuse at the hand of their rebel captors.
Hasan Mohamed, 50, was detained by the Houthis for 8 months in a prison in Sanaa, the rebel-held capital. He describes being brutally beaten with iron rods and electrocuted. Now living in Aden, he showed his hands where the nails were ripped out.
"I didn’t believe that I would be released from the Houthi hell alive, I was just awaiting my end,” he told The National, looking down at the still raw wounds on his hands.
“The torture that I was exposed to in the Houthi prison is hard to describe. They put us in a very dirty detention [centre], living in the darkness with mice and bugs. They would keep us awake until the early hours without reason just as a tool of torture" he added
Jamal Al Maamari, 50, is another victim of for the Houthi torture. The Marib resident was released in April after two years in the Houthi detention in Sanaa but has been left with life-changing injuries. Mr Al Maamari is paralysed from the waist down as a result of repeated beatings.
"As soon as I entered the prison, they started hitting me on the head with their guns until I passed out," Mr Al Maamari says. "When I woke up the next day, I couldn't stand up because my spine was broken," he says.
"My clothes were torn and I was covered with my own blood."
Mr Al Maamari says the Houthi’s also beat, burned and electrocuted him as well as using an electric drill on his body.
"One time, a prison guard was burning my left leg [with a torch] until the skin started to melt off, so I asked him sarcastically whether he was hungry," says Mr Al Maamari.
"He retaliated by getting a drill and using it on my thigh.”
Basem Al Hakeemi from the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights told The National that they have been working to document the crimes. He says they are compiling a catalogue of the brutal torture meted out by the Houthi militia to Yemeni civilians.
"We are co-operating with all the institutions working on human rights inside in the country and abroad, [but are] struggling to lead a campaign to expose the Houthi criminals and report the stories of victims for the international human rights organisations," he says.
But Mr Al Hakemi says he is confident people will see justice. “The Houthi thugs will not go without punishment, sooner or later they will be dragged to the courts."
The news of the brutal torture broke just ahead of Monday’s 70th-anniversary celebration of the International Declaration of Human Rights. At an event in Aden, Yemen’s minister for human rights, Mohammed Askar, says the Houthis are responsible for horrible violations against men, women and children.
"The ministry has documented stories of brutal torture, hundreds of innocent Yemenis have died in the Houthi detention centres and many died just a few days after their release," the minister says.
“The Houthis who committed such horrible crimes against the civilians will not go unpunished. Neither I nor the president or any other person could forgive those people and they will go to the courts to see punishment today or tomorrow."
On Friday, the Associated Press released a report based on testimony from 23 former detainees who said they survived or witnessed torture in Houthi prisons. Their relatives and lawyers, as well as activists and security officers, said they saw torture marks.
Some prisoners were burnt with acid, hanged from their wrists for weeks at a time or had their faces smashed with batons, an investigation by the Associated Press found.
The Abductees’ Mothers Union, an association of relatives of those held by the Houthis, documented the cases of more than 18,000 prisoners in the past four years.
These include 1,000 cases of torture in a network of secret prisons, said Sabah Mohammed, a representative of the group in the city of Marib.
The mothers’ group said at least 126 prisoners had died as a result of being tortured since the Houthis took over Sanaa in 2014.
One Yemeni doctor who was freed in December last year after his family paid $8,000 (Dh29,380), said he had helped a man who had been hanged by his genitals and another who had been burnt by acid.
These accounts underscore the significance of a prisoner swap reached in Sweden on Thursday at the start of UN-sponsored peace talks between the rebels and the Yemeni government.
As a trust-building measure, the two sides agreed to release several thousand prisoners, although details must still be hammered out.
In 2016 a committee to investigate reports of torture was set up and 13,500 prisoners were freed in its first three months.
Updated: December 10, 2018 09:06 PM