Activists, journalists and protesters facing continued restrictions by parties to the conflict

Expression

Newspaper distribution suspended in the wake of COVID-19

In an effort to check the spread of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) outbreak, on 23rd March 2020, Muammar Al-Aryani, the Minister of Communications in the internationally recognised Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, issued a decree ordering a halt to the physical distribution of government and private newspapers, stating that only electronic copies would be issued until 12th April 2020.

Death sentence upheld for prisoner of conscience

On 22nd March 2020, the Houthi-run Court of Appeal in Sana’a approved the death sentence handed down in January 2018 to the prisoner of conscience of the Baha’i faith, Hamid Haydara. Haydara was originally arrested in 2013 on allegations of espionage which are believed to be in direct retaliation for his peacefully-held beliefs. According to Amnesty International, he was then subjected to a five-year trial that was rife with procedural irregularities and contrary to international fair trial standards. Haydara was not permitted to attend the hearing and his ability to mount a further appeal to the Supreme Court is compromised by the Houthi authorities’ refusal to grant him access to his lawyers.

According to Amnesty International, Haydara’s trial is but one example of the many journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and members of religious minorities who have been subjected to unfair trials on trumped-up charges at the Court in Sana’a between 2015 and 2020 in a bid by the Houthis to consolidate their political control. 

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said: 

There is no question that Hamid Haydara is being sentenced to death solely for his conscientiously-held beliefs and peaceful activities.”

HRDs and journalists detained

In March 2020, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights received reports concerning the arrest and detention of several civil society activists and journalists. The arrests were carried out by various parties to the ongoing conflict and were aimed at curtailing the activists’ and journalists’ right to freedom of expression.

On 21st March 2020, journalist Moufid Ahmed Al-Ghailani posted an account on his Facebook page of his two-and-a-half-hour detention at the Seenah Police Station, which he described as "not suitable for animals to live in." Al-Ghailani writes articles for the Al-Arabi newspaper and works as a technical editor for both the Al-Saeeda satellite channel and the news website Al-Mashhad. He studied journalism at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

Al-Ghailani was arrested while filming a documentary on the archaeological sites in the city of Taiz. Despite presenting his official media credentials, he was prevented from filming and his camera and mobile phone were confiscated. He was accused of filming for the Houthi movement and forcefully taken to Seenah Police Station where he was interrogated about his journalistic activities over the course of several hours. Al-Ghailani’s personal belongings were returned to him on his release.

On 4th March 2020, security forces in the Ma’rib Governorate surrounded the house of human rights lawyer Saleem Allaw, arrested him and took him to the Security Department prison in Ma’rib where he was detained without charge until 24th March 2020.

Allaw works as a coordinator for the Hood Organisation to Defend Rights and Freedoms and provides regular updates on human rights violations in the Ma’rib Governorate on his Twitter account. He also undertakes field visits in an effort to promote human rights in his area.

Despite reports of his deteriorating health, journalist Abdulhafiz Al-Samadi remains in detention since 17th July 2019, when masked gunmen in civilian clothes from the Houthi Preventive Security Service kidnapped him from his home in the centre of the capital, Sana'a.

Journalist temporarily barred from travelling

In separate developments, on 26th December 2019, journalist Sabri Salmeen bin Makhashin was prevented from traveling and had his passport confiscated by security forces as he attempted to board a flight at Sayoun International Airport in the Hadhramaut region of Yemen to join his family in Cairo. Bin Makhashin was informed that he had been subjected to a travel ban under direct orders from the Governor of Hadhramaut, Faraj Al-Bahssni. On the evening of 28th December 2019, bin Makhashin arrived in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, from Sayoun International Airport after his travel ban was lifted. Bin Makhashin is the Editor-in-Chief of the Al-Mohrer newspaper as well as its website Al-Mohrer.Net. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, he had earlier been detained from 3rd December 2018 to 28th January 2019 in retaliation for social media posts criticising Governor Al-Bahssni. There is a widespread belief among his fellow journalists that the travel ban may have constituted a reprisal for his articles and social media posts denouncing corruption in the Hadhramaut Governorate.

Peaceful Assembly

Protesters facing arbitrary arrests

According to Human Rights Watch, in recent weeks Saudi and Saudi-backed forces have arbitrarily arrested demonstrators protesting the presence of Saudi forces, as well as other local residents not connected with the protests, in al-Mahrah’s capital, al-Ghaydah. Former detainees have provided accounts of their arrest and the accusations they faced of supporting opponents of Saudi Arabia while being subjected to interrogation and torture at an informal detention facility at al-Ghaydah city airport.

Human Rights Watch has been documenting the cases of 16 people whom Saudi and allied Yemeni forces arbitrarily detained in al-Mahrah governorate between June 2019 and February 2020. Four officials of the Hadi government, former detainees and activists have told Human Rights Watch that Saudi officers and Saudi-backed Yemeni forces are running an informal detention facility at al-Ghaydah airport in al-Mahrah, where they detain and interrogate demonstrators protesting the activities of Saudi forces and their Yemeni allies in Al-Mahrah.