Human rights defenders at risk as war continues in Yemen


On 18th June 2018, prominent Yemeni human rights defenders Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights were arbitrarily arrested and detained by authorities at Seiyun airport as they were prepared to travel to an event at the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Oslo, Norway. No reason for their arrest was communicated to them by the authorities during the 12 hours that they were detained, only that the order to detain them had been received from the Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition.

Such violations of basic rights have become commonplace in Yemen, as the country prepares for its third review under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place in 2019. Ahead of the review, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, CIVICUS and Front Line Defenders highlighted the complete lack of protection for human rights defenders and journalists in Yemen. According to their joint submission to the UPR, journalists and human rights defenders are regularly abducted, kidnapped and detained in undisclosed locations and often subjected to smear campaigns, threats and judicial persecution. None of the 316 recommendations issued in Yemen’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review have been implemented.

In a separate development, a new documentary by Yemeni human rights organisation Mwatana documents the story of 5 civilians who have been subject to arbitrary detention and forcibly disappeared in the conflict in Yemen.


Conditions for journalists in Yemen remain grave and dangerous. Yemeni journalist Mazen Al-Shaabi, a reporter for United Arab Emirates-funded Sharjah TV was attacked on 23rd July 2018 according to the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) and local news reports. Al-Shaabi was attacked by unknown assailants while driving home to Aden and received minor injuries to his head when he hit the windshield. Four months ago, his car had also been shot at by unknown gunmen, although he was not in the car. Al-Shaabi has been covering the UAE’s humanitarian role in Yemen.

CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said:

"The brazen attack on Mazen al-Shaabi highlights the dangers journalists in Yemen face, no matter where they are working or for whom….authorities in Aden should thoroughly investigate the attack on al-Shaabi and ensure the safety of journalists working in areas under their control."

In a separate incident, according to a statement released by RSF on 18th June 2018, Yemeni journalist Anwar Al-Rakan died on 2nd June 2018 days after he was released from a Houthi prison. He had been held for about a year and subjected to mistreatment. Al-Rakan’s family had been unaware that he had been detained, and for this reason, no active campaign for his release had been undertaken.

It has been reported that the Houthi militia continue to hold at least 10 journalists, and one citizen journalist captive, although it is feared that they could be holding more as no information is shared by the militia.

Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk said:

“There is no justification for arbitrarily detaining and torturing journalists. The Houthis allowed Anwar al Rakan to become fatally ill in detention without providing him with the medical attention he needed and without alerting his family in time. The journalists they are holding, some since 2015, must be freed at once. All of the parties to the war in Yemen, whether the Houthis, Al Qaeda or the Arab coalition, must stop intimidating, torturing or abducting the journalists they dislike.”

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the unabating war in Yemen has had dire effects on the work and lives of journalists and HRDs. Yemen, which is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis in history, has been ranked 167th out of 180th in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.