Houthi Prisons: Graves for Yemenis

International Action is Required to Hold Houthi Movement Accountable

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor published a 40-page detailed report entitled “I Wished to Die”. It documented severe violations committed against detainees in Houthi prisons in Yemen. (Reuters)
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor published a 40-page detailed report entitled “I Wished to Die”. It documented severe violations committed against detainees in Houthi prisons in Yemen. (Reuters)

Houthi Prisons: Graves for Yemenis

Talk of violations committed by the Houthi coup militias is not new. Each morning we read about new violation of the rights of Yemeni people amid an embarrassing world silence which proves that self-interests are the dominant factor in international relations and that the protection of human rights is only a banner raised by many parties to wash their hands of crimes committed by Iran-backed terrorist groups in the region.

Meanwhile, negotiations are held between Tehran, US and some European countries in hopes of reviving the stillborn nuclear deal. The Democratic administration in the White House is insisting on proving that it is right in dealing with a regional actor that is expanding its influence and power and is intervening in the domestic affairs of regional countries, threatening their security and stability. According to facts on the ground, the American approach has failed and peoples of the region are paying the price of such unwarranted American insistence.  All of this reveals that the US is looking after its immediate interests without any consideration of the geostrategic interests it has with its traditional allies.

Apart from the outcomes of the ongoing attempts to restart the nuclear deal, which will conclude in a new disappointment, the record of Houthis as Iran’s arm in Yemen is full of rights violations that range from sabotaging Yemen’s institutions, daily assaults and terrorist attacks that kill innocent Yemenis, to the international, regional and local reports that reveal the suffering of Yemenis inside the prisons of the coup militia. Highlighting the magnitude of Yemeni people’s suffering under the hegemony of Houthis, this report is focusing on two pivotal points.

In September 2121, Houthis executed 9 people after years of detention and torture. (AFP)

Suffering inside Houthi Prisons

Numerous advocacy reports issued by international, regional and local organizations accurately observed the suffering of the Yemeni people who are held in Houthi prisons.

Most prominent of these are:

  1. In early January 2021, The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor published a 40-page detailed report entitled “I Wished to Die.” The report documented severe violations committed against detainees in Houthi prisons in Yemen, pointing out that Houthi assaults, acts of humiliation, and threats to prisoners’ families were a main part of torture methods. The report also explained the methods of abduction and illegal torture which were practiced by Houthis, and uncovered secret locations used by the group to detain and torture civilians in the regions it controls in a number of Yemeni provinces. The documents also showed some Houthi torture methods that caused permanent disabilities and devastating health consequences for some of the detainees and led to the death of dozens who were hit on the head and burned with acid, according to interviews with some prisoners released from Houthi prisons.


According to the report, upon taking over any region, the militia’s first mission is to build new prisons. The report estimated that the total number of Houthi prisons is over 200 prisons, cells, detention and torture centers in the Houthi-controlled provinces. The most dangerous of these prisons are: the Political Prison, Habra Prison and the Central Prison, which are unfit to be used as detention centers as they do not meet the lowest and legal standards for prisons.


  1. The Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen published a report on Houthi militias, which was submitted to the Council on January 25, 2022. It documented abduction, rape and false accusations against Yemenis. It cited nine cases in which Houthis abducted and detained female political and professional activists over their ideological opposition and political orientation.


  1. The March 8 Bloc for Yemeni Women, in cooperation with many international and local rights groups, released a report entitled: “Houthi Prisons Graveyards for Women” in February 2021. The report documents the Houthi violations against women from December 2017 to December 2020, stating that there were 1181 women detainees including: 274 cases of forced disappearance, 292 of human rights activists and staff from the education sector, and 246 of relief and humanitarian workers. The report also mentions 71 rape cases and 4 suicides. As for age groups, there were more than 293 detainees below 18 years old. In addition, the report documented dozens of young boys and girls who were detained with their mothers.


  1. Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights also observed in late 2021 the torture of 1635 people and more than 350 cases of torture to death, 33 of which were abducted women who were tortured to death in Houthi prisons.


  1. The Musawah Organization for Rights and Freedom also issued a statement in July 2022, in which it condemned the killing of Hussein Ajeelat, a former detainee by Houthis, who died after a three-year torture in the militia’s prison in Amran. The statement indicated that 293 civilian detainees were tortured to death in Houthi prisons and detention centers in all provinces controlled by Houthis since the militia’s September 2014 coup against the legitimate government until June 2022.


  1. The Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations, which is a broad advocacy coalition comprising many non-governmental organizations, stated in its June 2022 report that its team documented the torture of 1635 detainees in Houthi prisons, the number included 109 children, 33 women and 78 elderly persons from 17 Yemeni provinces. The detainees were subjected to physical and psychological abuse that resulted in quadriplegia or hemiplegia for some of them, while others suffered chronic conditions, loss of memory, or visual or hearing impairment. In addition, more 208 detainees were severely tortured to death, including 8 children, 9 women and 15 elderly persons. Some of them died in their cells due to excessive torture by electricity, beating and strangulation. Others died due to negligence, deteriorating health conditions and lack of medical treatment. Moreover, a number of detainees were either physically liquidated inside the militia’s prisons or forced to commit suicide due to brutal abuse.


  1. SAM for Rights and Liberties uncovered in its June 2022 report that female detainees in Houthi prisons were subjected to unethical treatment and physical and psychological abuse, including deprivation of sunlight, and denial of access to toilets except for once or twice a day. They were also subjected to long interrogation late at night, electric shocks, cold water showers, and fingernail pulling.


  1. A report issued by Women for Peace in Yemen in June 2022 highlighted severe violations against hundreds of Yemeni women in Houthi prisons. It pointed out that the number of female prisoners has reached 1421, 504 of whom are detained in the Central Prison of Sanaa, while 291 others were forced to disappear into secret prisons, in addition to 193 cases who were illegally sentenced over charges of espionage among other accusations.  The report emphasized that the detained women were faced with the worst forms of physical torture: they were beaten by batons and electric cords, shocked by electric power, strangled, waterboarded, forced to stand over open cans for hours, prevented from eating or drinking for long hours, and denied access to sunlight and ventilation. Above that, they were psychologically abused by humiliation, verbal abuse, degradation, face slapping, and forced confession to crimes they didn’t commit as well as other disgraceful immoral charges. They were also denied their rights to family visits.


  1.  A rights advocacy report by the Red Sea Center for Political and Security Studies, published in August 2022, mentioned that the number of women detained in Houthi prisons exceeded 1800. 311 forced disappearance cases were reported and 614 detainees were human rights activists and education workers.  96 rape cases were also documented.
In May 2022, the US Department of State confirmed the death of one of its employees inside a Houthi prison, after he was kidnapped with his colleagues when the US embassy in Sanaa was stormed. (AP)

All the aforementioned are just examples of reliable reports that documented the suffering of Yemeni people inside Houthi prisons. Their plight is not only observed by human rights organizations, but also inspired poets, writers and artists who shared  the pain of the Yemeni people.

Yemeni poet Mohammed Qaderi wrote a poem about the time he was held inside Houthi prisons, in which he said:

“O political and security forces, your actions in jail are disgraceful

By Allah, O my solitary cell, send my greetings to free people in Ibb”


Poet Bardis Al-Sayaghi starred in the documentary “Women Detainees in Houthi Prisons” which narrates a real story of heroines who suffered the bitterness of detention and torture. The film features a group of women who faced violations and violent abuse inside Houthi prisons. The documentary was screened for the first time at the Swiss Press Club on March 21, 2021. It was also screened in the UK Parliament, aiming to reveal the reality of Houthi crimes and violations against Yemeni women.

Who is Responsible for Protecting Yemenis in Houthi Prisons?

Amid such shameful scenes, there is a kind of responsibility that world and Arab human conscience should bear, which is to swiftly take effective actions to save Yemeni victims from imminent death under the control of the terrorist group which does not care for Yemeni citizens or their right to live.

Action should be taken by relevant international parties, ahead of whom are the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the General Prosecutor of the International Court of Justice. How can they keep silent in face of these crimes against humanity that make up the black record of the Houthi group?

Police officers are carrying the body of a cleric, who was convicted of being involved in the killing of Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018, after he was executed in Tahrir Square in Sanaa, Yemen. (Reuters)

Here are some suggested approaches for action:

  1. Forming a UN fact-finding committee to visit Yemen and prepare a detailed report to be submitted to relevant authorities that includes violations inside Houthi-run prisons. This would pave the way to launch a serious investigation into the documented violations, particularly cases of forced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings which are all within the ICC jurisdiction.
  2. Increasing pressure on Houthis to immediately and unconditionally release all detainees, based on Stockholm Agreement that was signed by all Yemeni parties in December 2018. The agreement required the release of all people who were abducted, forcedly disappeared, and imprisoned by all of the parties. The agreement also required all parties to return these people back to their families without any restrictions or further threats, and to stop the use of torture or any form of inhumane treatment of prisoners.
  3. Launching an international humanitarian campaign to save Yemenis inside Houthi prisons, under the slogan of “freedom and right of life for Yemenis.” The campaign should be held under the auspices of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.
  4. Strengthening the role of the humanitarian media, whose coverage should highlight two aspects of any crisis. In Yemen, the first aspect is the size of Houthi violations and transgressions committed against Yemeni citizens, whether these violations are inside prisons or are represented by the landmines that kill innocent people. The second is the humanitarian support provided by international and regional organizations to alleviate the plight of Yemeni people, such as the efforts of King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center which is concerned with clearing landmines and explosive devices planted by Houthis.
Yemeni mothers of abductees carry banners protesting Houthi detention and torture of their children.

In conclusion, international and Arab silence to Houthi crimes against Yemeni people sends an implicit message to the militias that their violations amounting to war crimes are acceptable. Thus, it is necessary that we shed further light on the violations against humanity in general and practices against prisoners and forcedly disappeared citizens in particular. 

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