Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Envoy visits detained Briton in Yemen for first time

Family says Luke Symons has been detained for more than two years over false spying claims

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the detention of Luke Symons as a distressing case. AFP
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described the detention of Luke Symons as a distressing case. AFP

UN officials have visited a Briton allegedly beaten in a Houthi-run prison in Yemen for the first time since his arrest more than two years ago.

Luke Symons, 27, was accused of being a British spy after being arrested in the capital Sanaa in 2017 after a failed attempt to escape the country with his family. His family denies that he is involved in spying.

An official from the office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen met Mr Symons last month and reported that he was in good health but had been stopped from making a telephone call to his family in Cardiff, Wales.

The British government told the family that the official would be discussing the case with senior Houthi leaders and “we hope that conversation might shed some light on the prospect of Luke’s release”.

The family and their MP have expressed frustration at the failure of the UK government to secure Mr Symons’ release, who travelled to Yemen before the outbreak of war.

Robert Cummings, the detained man’s grandfather, said: “We have got to a point where we can’t go any further – and nobody’s taking any action at all.”

The family’s MP, Kevin Brennan, last week called for a debate on Yemen in Britain’s parliament following the failure of the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the United Nations to secure his release. “His family are becoming increasingly exasperated,” he told parliament.

Mr Hunt raised his case with the Yemeni authorities during a visit to the Gulf in March, his department said. A spokesperson said: “This is a very distressing case. We are not able to offer consular assistance in Yemen.

“We appreciate that he was in Yemen before the conflict broke out and we will continue to exert every effort we can to try to find a way to get him home.”

During the visit by the UN official last month, Mr Symons was taken from his prison to a government building, raising family suspicions that the authorities did not want the UN to see the conditions in which he was being held.

Mr Symons, who converted to Islam as a teenager in the Welsh city of Cardiff, travelled to Yemen to deepen his knowledge the Muslim faith before the outbreak of major fighting in the country. He married a local woman and they have a young child.

Before his arrest, Mr Symons and his then pregnant wife had made it to Djibouti after their home in the southern city of Taiz was damaged during bombing.

They returned to Yemen after being told that only Mr Symons could travel to the UK because his wife had lost her documents during the conflict. He was subsequently detained.

The family has launched a crowdfunding appeal to fly the family back to the UK if they are able to secure his release from the jail.

Human Rights Watch reported last year that it had documented dozens of cases of “arbitrary and abusive” detention by Houthis and forces loyal to the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Former detainees told the rights group that Houthi officers beat them with rods, sticks and shackled them to the walls.

Updated: May 6, 2019 04:46 PM

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