Houthi rebels are kidnapping and detaining women in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa in order to secure ransom payments from their families, residents and activists have said.
The violations are the latest in a series of atrocities committed by the rebel group, including detaining journalists, torturing captives, stealing humanitarian aid and training child soldiers.
It underscores the extent to which Houthis have violated humanitarian law and continue to benefit from a war economy that is filling up their coffers at the cost of those residing in areas under their control.
Huda Al Sarari, a member of an association set up by the mothers of those kidnapped by rebels, told The National that there are "dozens" of women who have been kidnapped by Houthis. She says that activists are monitoring the cases of these female detainees and are trying to publicise violations against them on social media networks.
The latest accusations were first raised by the Yemen Organisation for Combating Human Trafficking last week. The head of the Sanaa-based anti-trafficking group told The Associated Press that women are being captured by Houthi rebels on charges of prostitution and collaborating with the Arab coalition. He cited reports from families, former female detainees, and other sources.
The group said that Houthis are carrying out violations such as "abuse, torture, and forced disappearances of women and girls in secret and illegal prisons."
The head of the anti-trafficking group Nabil Fadel said that such violations against women and girls started after Houthis launched a crackdown on alleged prostitution rings.
Women who had been rounded up in the crackdown and subsequently granted release were sent to secret detentions in villas across the Yemeni capital, instead of being set free, according to The Associated Press.
A Sanaa-based activist who heads a local anti-corruption organisation said that these women are not put on trial and many are being detained arbitrarily. The activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Houthis are detaining these women to request large sums of money from their families in return of their release.
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He said only some the women detained by Houthis are actually prostitutes. He also said that it remains unclear exactly how many women are currently being detained because their families are reluctant to speak on the issue.
Fares Saeed, a Yemeni journalist, told The National that he was contacted by a female student at Sanaa University who claims that she was forcibly kidnapped by Houthi gunmen along with one of her friends in November last year.
The girl, Saeed said, was held in a detention facility where she was beaten and threatened with rape, on the charge that she incited protests against rebels. She was released ten days later after her father agreed to pay a ransom fee and vowed to not speak of his daughter’s detention.