19 October 2015

Yemen: Enforced Disappearance and Incommunicado Detention by Houthi-Saleh Coalition − When Preaching Against Violence Leads to Abduction

Houthi forces after seizing Sana’a Houthi forces after seizing Sana’a Reuters

On 12 October 2015, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) as well as an urgent appeal to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) regarding the cases of two Yemeni citizens victims of the Houthi-Saleh Coalition in Sanaa. Both Imam Abdulmajid bin Mahmoud Ali Al Hatari, who peacefully condemned violence in his sermons, and Hisham Masad Ahmed Naji Al Mahia are currently unlawfully detained by the Houthi-Saleh Coalition.

Arrest and Disappearance of 63-year-old Imam Abdjulmajid bin Mahmoud Ali Al Hatari

On 18 June 2015, a group of men belonging to the Houthi forces stormed into the house of one of Al Hatari's relative in the Sawad neighbourhood of Sana'a. There, they arrested the Imam before driving him to an unknown location.

Like several of his family members, several of whom are also Imams, Al Hatari had already been persecuted by members of the Houthi forces for condemning, in their sermons, the armed groups' violence during their advance into Sana'a. Among other things, they had previously looted the Imam's possessions and occupied his house as well as the mosque. After his disappearance, Al Hatari's family inquired about his whereabouts with the security forces of the Houthi-Saleh Coalition, but to no avail.

"It is essential that all armed groups abide by the fundamental guarantees enshrined in Article 3 Common to the Geneva Convention," said Radidja Nemar. "The Houthi-Saleh coalition should also end this practice of retaliation against individuals who criticise them peacefully."

Arbitrary Detention of 30-year-old IT specialist, Hisham Masad Ahmed Naji Al Mahia

Five years earlier, on 29 February 2010 − at a time when the Saleh government was in charge of Sana'a and Alkarama was already sending numerous communications to the Special Procedures on systematic cases of torture, arbitrary detention and unfair trial committed by the Saleh Government, especially under the umbrella of "counter-terrorism" − members of the Intelligence Directorate, the Police and the Anti-terrorist Unit of the Special Security Forces arrested Al Mahia at the English Language Institute in Sana'a and took him to the National Security Prison in Sana'a. After over a year of pre-trial detention, on 6 February 2011, Al Mahia was charged by the Specialised Criminal Court of First Instance with "membership in a terrorist cell that aims at attacking military, security and governmental targets," "collection of an arsenal of weapons in pursuit of the attacks" and "bombing of the Canadian company Nexen, which resulted in no human injury" − charges on the basis of which he was sentenced two years later, on 7 May 2013 to four years in prison.

Given the time that he had already spent in prison, Al Mahia should have been released on 29 February 2014 after serving his full sentence. He remains, however, detained at the National Security Prison in Sana'a. Moreover, his situation has worsened after the Houthi-Saleh Coalition took over control of the prison in January 2015. Since then, he has been denied contact both with lawyer and his family who used to visit him. Now in a situation of incommunicado detention, Al Mahia is at high risk of torture.

"This situation, which is too common in the current context in Yemen, is extremely problematic: when the Houthis-Saleh Coalition took over the capital, including the police, justice and penitentiary institutions, they made the situation of hundreds of detainees even more uncertain than before" said Radidja Nemar, Regional Legal Director for the Gulf at Alkarama. "Ensuring the respect of detainees' rights during previous governments was already challenging," she added, "the sudden shift in the control of detention centres raises even more challenges today: it seems that while authorities in charge succeed one another, the practices of arbitrary detention and incommunicado unfortunately continue unchanged."

Alkarama's actions

Concerned over the fate of their respective family members, and in view of their impossibility to obtain remedy at the local level, Al Hatari and Al Mahia's the families contacted Alkarama in the hope that the organisation could help release their relatives. In view of these facts, Alkarama seized the UN Working Groups on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, the WGAD and the WGEID, asking the two special procedures on human rights to request the the Houthi-Saleh Coalition to release both men immediately.

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