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“I wished to die”: New report documenting the suffering of prisoners in Houthi prisons

Geneva The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor documented the grave violations prisoners in Houthi prisons endured in a detailed report, stressing the need to scale up efforts to put an end to such violations and hold perpetrators accountable. 

The 40-page report presented the various illegal forms of abduction and torture adopted by Houthis and revealed secret location of some Houthi-run prisons in various Yemeni governorates to torture civilians

The report, entitled “I wished to die,” is based on 13 testimonies Euro-Med Monitor research team collected from freed prisoners. It is worth mentioning that all of them are civilians and have been released in the UN-sponsored prisoner-swap deal between the warring parties in August 2020. Freed prisoners explained the most prominent violations they were subjected to and the adverse conditions they endured during their detention in Houthi prisons.

Houthis run unofficial centers for detention, including residential buildings, schools, and universities, which do not meet the minimum international and local standards for detention concerning hygiene, ventilation, and the provision of proper health care, water, electricity, and basic necessities.

The report highlighted that COVID-19 has spread widely in the three main detention centers in Sana’a: the Political Prison, the Habra Prison, and the Central Prison. These three prisons are not suitable to be used as detention centers in the first place due to the lack of the minimum legal standards for detention.

Houthis adopt various forms of torture, varying between physical and mental torture. Houthis’ most prominent torture method was sever beating with heavy tools such as rifle butts; Houthis used other forms of torture such as hanging from hands for long periods, whipping detainees while naked, and using chemical incendiary materials. This caused permanent disabilities to some detainees while some others died during torture, especially those who were hit on the head with batons or those who were sprayed with acid.

On the other hand, there were various forms of mental torture. That involved intimidation and pressuring detainees to confess to charges they did not commit. Houthis kept them in solitary confinement, having confiscated their clothes and medicines, and insulted and threatened to harm their families. They also blackmailed their families in exchange for releasing them and threatened to transfer detainees to places under constant bombing from the Arab Coalition warplanes. Most of those released suffer from psychological problems that require long-term rehabilitation.

Ibrahim Ghandari, 40, a former prisoner in Houthi prisons, said in his testimony to Euro-Med Monitor: “I was imprisoned for about five years. I was not presented to court, nor was I allowed to appoint a lawyer. My charge was being a political activist. I was beaten with cables. They used to tie my hands to my feet from behind using chains, deprived me of medicines and painkillers. I spent about five years in an overcrowded and completely closed room with no light, ventilation or sunlight. They only allowed us to use the bathroom for a short period of time not exceeding two minutes three times a day. They did not allow me to communicate with my family except eight months after my detention”.

Tariq Al-Liwa, the legal advisor at the Euro-Med Monitor, said: “Yemeni laws and international agreements and conventions regarding the status of prisoners prohibit all practices committed by Houthis against prisoners, including arbitrary arrest, detaining them in illegal places and not enabling them to exercise their right to legal defense, and violations and practices committed against them, including physical and psychological torture”.

He added, “the atrocities committed inside Houthi prisons make it imperative for all concerned parties, with their different specializations, to assume their responsibilities towards monitoring detention facilities and conditions, and to pressure Houthis to end their policy of kidnapping, enforced disappearance and systematic torture of prisoners, and to hold accountable those involved in these brutal practices.”

Euro-Med Monitor’s report concluded by the following recommendations:

• The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment should conduct a fact-finding visit to Yemen, and prepare a detailed report to be submitted to the competent authorities documenting violations committed inside prisons, especially by Houthis.

• The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor should open a serious investigation into violations documented in Yemen, especially enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings, as these acts constitute crimes that fall within the framework of the court’s work.

• Houthis should immediately and unconditionally release all detainees, reveal the fate of those forcibly disappeared and work to return them to their families without restrictions or threats of prosecution, and to stop practicing torture or any form of inhumane treatment against detainees in the group’s prisons.

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