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Yemen: Illegal detention remains rife after five years of war

    March 23, 2020

    Unlawful detention during the ongoing conflict in Yemen - ranging from politically-motivated death sentences, to forcibly disappearing and torturing detainees in ‘black sites’ - remain rife ahead of the fifth anniversary (Wednesday 25 March) of the war, Amnesty International has said.

    Since the current conflict erupted in March 2015, scores of people – including journalists, academics and members of the Baha’i faith – have been disappeared and detained, primarily because of their human rights activism, political affiliation or their conscientiously-held beliefs.

    “The last five years of relentless conflict have been a breeding ground for serious violations against detainees on both sides – in some cases amounting to war crimes,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

    “Huthi forces have detained dozens of people – including those of the Baha’i faith – on trumped-up charges and many have been sentenced to death. It is absolutely abhorrent that so many members of the Baha’i community remain at risk of execution for their conscientiously-held beliefs and peaceful activities.

    “We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience in Yemen, and for truth and justice in the many cases of enforced disappearance and torture linked to unlawful detention.”

    In the past year alone, the Huthis and their allied forces have stepped up their use of an anti-terrorism court as a way to settle political scores, often handing down death sentences on spurious accusations of espionage and “aiding an enemy country” following grossly unfair trials. Meanwhile, UAE forces and their allies in southern Yemen have been running a network of secret detention sites where they forcibly disappeared and tortured dozens of individuals, in what amount to war crimes.

    To mark the anniversary, Amnesty International will launch a year-long campaign focusing on arbitrary detentions, specifically on cases that constitute violations of freedom of expression, association and religion.

    Last month, representatives of the parties to the conflict agreed to what would be the largest UN-sponsored prisoner exchange.

    Huthi targeting of religious minorities and others

    In a new public statement, Amnesty International has documented the cases of 66 individuals whose proceedings are all ongoing, bar one. All were brought before the Sana’a-based Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) – a court traditionally reserved for terrorism-related cases – in the last five years. Journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and members of religious minorities are among those subjected to unfair trial on spurious or trumped-up charges by this court. All of the individuals are being tried on charges of spying, which are mandatorily punishable by death under Yemeni law.

    Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.

    Civilian suffering

    Since 2015, all parties to the conflict in Yemen committed repeated and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

    Huthi forces, which control large parts of the country, have indiscriminately shelled residential neighbourhoods and launched missiles indiscriminately into Saudi Arabia. The coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which support the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, continue to bomb civilian infrastructure and carry out indiscriminate attacks, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians. All parties have also suppressed freedom of expression through arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

    Civilians are trapped in the middle of the conflict, and bear the brunt of the violence. To date, more than 233,000 people have been killed and injured. The spiralling humanitarian crisis has left approximately 14 million people on the brink of famine. The situation has been exacerbated by years of poor governance, resulting in poverty and causing immense suffering.

    Inevitably, given the prolonged nature of the conflict and the use of unlawful tactics by all parties, coping mechanisms for the civilian population are at breaking point. An estimated 22 million Yemenis currently require humanitarian assistance to survive.
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    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Lucy Scholey, Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142, lscholey@amnesty.ca  

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