Yemen: government calls on Houthis to release all detained journalists

Rebels committed more than 2000 violations against journalists and media institutions, say officials

epa08750549 Exchanged Yemenis loyal to the Houthis shout slogans upon their arrival at Sana'a Airport on the second day of a prisoner swap between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, in Sana'a, Yemen, 16 October 2020. According to reports, the Saudi-backed government of Yemen and the Houthis have completed a UN and ICRC-brokered deal to exchange 1,080 prisoners, including 681 Houthis in exchange for 381 people of the government, 15 Saudis and four Sudanese who were fighting alongside the government forces, in the largest swap since the 2015 escalation of conflict in Yemen.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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Yemen’s Houthi rebels must release all detained and abducted journalists without any conditions, government officials said on Tuesday.

Dozens of journalists have been held in Houthi prisons since the conflict kicked off in 2014, but only a few have been released under a UN-led prisoner exchange operation.

“We call on the international community and organisations concerned with protecting journalists to review the tragic conditions experienced by journalists in areas controlled by Houthi militia and condemn the crimes and violations against them,” Yemen’s information minister, Muammar Al Eryani said.

His comments coincide with the international day to end impunity for crimes against journalists.

“We remember with deep pain our fellow journalists in Houthis prisons, who face execution orders for their political opinions,” Mr Al Eryani said.

The crimes against journalists reveal the rebels' “ugly side”, he said.

The Iran-backed Houthis have been accused of killing, abducting, arresting, torturing and forcibly disappearing reporters in areas under their control.

Yemen is ranked 167 out of 180 countries in Reporter’s Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

The country's deputy human rights minister, Majed Fadail told The National that the rebels have committed more than 2000 violations against journalists and media institutions.

“Their actions resulted in the killing of 44 journalists and media professionals and the arrest of dozens who remain under their control since the war started,” Mr Fadail said.

The rebels committed “psychological and physical torture against them and sentenced four to death,” he said.

The reporters were sentenced on charges of espionage in April but their conviction is the subject of an appeal.

Abdel Khaleq Omran, Tawfiq Al Mansouri, Harith Hamid and Akram Al Walidi who were sentenced to death by the Houthi courts are still in prison and were not part of the prisoner swap operation that took place last month.

“These crimes against journalists will not go unpunished,” he said, adding that justice will be served.

Mr Fadail said the government has been forced to call on the international community to condemn the crimes and violations against the reporters.

“Yemen has never seen these actions before, we want the Houthis to feel the pressure to release the remaining kidnapped journalists without restriction or condition,” he said.

Yemen’s warring sides released hundreds of prisoners last month in the biggest exchange operation since the war started.

Nearly 680 Houthi rebels and 400 pro-government fighters were flown between the capital Sanaa and the government-controlled city of Aden.

Mr Fadail, who is also a member of the government prisoner exchange committee, said they are in process of planning the next round of talks which will take place by end of this year.