Dozens of Yemeni girls and women face secret Houthi trials on false prostitution charges

Concerns are growing over the fate of 65 women in rebel courts without legal representation

epa07165448 Displaced Yemeni women wait to register at an evacuation center after fleeing home in the war-affected port city of Hodeidah, in Sana'a, Yemen, 14 November 2018. According to reports, more Yemeni families are fleeing their homes in Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah due to fierce street fights between the Houthi militias and Yemeni government troops backed by the Saudi-led military coalition.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

Concerns are growing over the fate of 65 women and underage girls on trial in Houthi courts this week on false charges without legal representation.

The women have been in rebel detention for more than a year and are falsely accused of prostitution and aiding the Arab Coalition that is trying to restore the government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

“Houthi rebels have forced the women against their will to confess to taking part in prostitution rings after they rounded up, forcibly disappeared and tortured them, while blackmailing their families,” a Yemeni human rights activist said.

A Yemeni human rights activists said the Houthis tortured the women and girls, and forced them to confess to being part of a prostitution ring, then blackmailed their families.

Female associates of the rebels tricked the women into meeting them for food and medical supplies, then abducted them and took them to secret prisons in the capital Sanaa, the activist said.

“They were tortured to confess in front of cameras that they took part in prostitution networks belonging to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime."

Mr Saleh and his supporters formed an alliance with the rebels against the government in 2014 but it later fragmented.

The former leader was accused of treachery and was killed in late 2017.

The Houthis are requesting large sums of money from the women's families for their release, a Yemeni government official told The National.

Most of the women have been subjected to the most heinous forms of psychological and physical abuse.

A national commission in Aden that investigates human rights breaches has opened an inquiry into the women's disappearance.

Under-age girls are among the kidnapped women, Huda Al Sarari, lawyer and president of Yemen's human rights organisation, told The National.

“Houthis have committed many serious violations against women and girls to blackmail their families with money by abducting them and demanding financial ransom,” Ms Al Sarari said.

Families of the women and girls have agreed with the Houthis not to protest against the rebel movement in return for their freedom, another human rights activist said.

“The Houthis did not fulfil their promise and they know that Yemeni families will be afraid to go public,” he said.

“This issue is very sensitive among Yemenis and therefore they know they can twist the arms of their families as much as they like."

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war after the Iranian-backed rebels seized Sanaa in late 2014, and forced the internationally recognised government out.

The war has tipped the country to the brink of famine.

Last January, the Associate Press and human rights groups said that dozens of women were held in secret prisons operated by the rebels in Sanaa.

Thousands of Yemenis have been imprisoned by the rebels during the four years of the war and many have been tortured, the reports said.

Houthis have also arbitrarily arrested and detained critics and opponents, journalists, human rights campaigners and members of the Bahai community.

But they deny the existence of secret prisons and illegal and arbitrary detentions.

The government has called on international organisations to release all detainees, men and women, held by the rebels.

"We urge the UN to act," Majed Fadhil, Yemen's deputy human rights minister, told The National.

"Until now they have not taken any action, nor have they released any reports regarding this crucial issue, which encourages the rebels to commit further violations.”