Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 January 2020

Yemen's Houthis urged to review 30 death sentences issued last week

The prisoners were forced to confess under torture, it has been alleged

Death sentences handed to 30 Yemeni prisoners by a Houthi-run court have drawn international condemnation, with the United States and United Nations urging the rebels to reconsider.

The prisoners are mostly academics, students and politicians affiliated with the Islah party, which has been critical of the Houthis. They were sentenced in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday on charges that include spying for Saudi Arabia.

A defence lawyer representing some of the detainees, Abdulmajeed Sabrah, said they were forced to confess under duress and through the use of torture.

“The Houthis began storming the residences of the accused in Sanaa, in some cases taking relatives into custody to force them to surrender,” Mr Sabrah said.

“The first was abducted in September 2015 and the last in January 2017. The Houthis pressed fake charges against the prisoners, but the real reason behind their abduction is their opposition for the Houthi rebels.”

Mr Sabrah said that signs of torture were visible on the faces and bodies of the prisoners, and that he and other lawyers had themselves been threatened by the Houthi authorities.

“They threatened me many times because I argued that the court should stop televising the defendants’ confessions. One of my colleagues was beaten in court during the last hearing because he gave a pen to one of the defendants,” he said.

The US State Department said it was “seriously concerned” by the sentencing in a statement released on Saturday. It said that among those sentenced were people detained on “unfounded” and “politically motivated” charges, and echoed the allegation that the prisoners have been physically abused.

“We urge the Iranian-backed Houthis to retract these sentences, treat detainees humanely and cease arbitrary detentions,” it said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also criticised the sentences, calling for the appeals court to take allegations of torture into consideration.

“Any politically motivated charges should be dismissed and international fair trial standards fully complied with,” a representative said. The OHCHR “opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances”, the representative said.

Although an appeal hearing is supposed to start soon, a defence lawyer said it has yet to be scheduled.

Huda Al Sarari, a Yemeni human rights lawyer, said the verdict was unlawful because it was issued by unrecognised authorities.

“All those sentenced are on the prisoner swap list that is part of a deal between the rebels and the Yemeni government, sponsored by the UN in accordance with the Stockholm agreement,” Ms Al Sarari said.

“I call upon the Yemeni government to take the matter seriously and put pressure on the ambassadors of the countries that support the peace process to stop this.”

Updated: July 14, 2019 08:08 PM

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