Yemeni court puts Houthi leader on trial for coup and starting war

Abdulmalik Al Houthi is accused of carrying out a coup and collaborating with Iran to damage Yemen

Houthi fighters shout slogans during a gathering of Houthi loyalists on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A north Yemen court has begun the case against top rebel leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi and 174 of his affiliates for staging a coup and sparking a war.

Mr Al Houthi, who remains at large, is being tried under judge Aqil Taj Addin, the head of the military court in the Third Military Region in Marib.

"The list of defendants included members of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, ministers in their unrecognized government, military commanders in the Houthi militia, pro-Houthi tribal leaders and some other Houthi politicians" judicial figures involved in the trial and the indictment seen by The National said.

Lawyer Hadi Wardan, a member of the prosecution team, said that the charges relate to plotting and staging a coup against Yemen’s elected President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and for forming the Houthi militia, also known as Ansar Allah.

The prosecution alleges that Abdulmalik Al Houthi formed the rebel group in collaboration with Hezbollah and military experts affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

“The indictment included charges of carrying out a coup against the Republican system of Yemen and its authorities by force and violence and placing the president of the republic and the government under house arrest in an attempt to kill Yemen’s legitimate president, in addition to establishing illegal relations with Iran aiming to damage the status of Yemen politically, economically and diplomatically,” Mr Wardan said.

The trial follows years of work by the Yemeni judiciary to gather evidence and document crimes committed by the Houthi militia and its leaders.

“This trial was held in response to demands by the Yemeni parliament and by human rights advocates and lawyers,” Mr Wardan said. “It’s true the timing is late, but holding the trial is a step on the right track,” he added.

Lawyers said pressure from the people pushed the government’s decision to start the trial nearly six years after the Houthis captured Sanaa in late 2014.

"The government decided to hold the trial under pressure from human rights advocates, journalists and the families of the detainees in Houthi prisons," a prominent lawyer based in Sanaa told The National.

“I think the government wouldn’t have commenced such trials unless there is much pressure on it to do so,” the lawyer said.

Months of fighting preceded the Houthis sudden breakthrough to take the capital in late 2014, imprisoning President Hadi and other government officials and seizing power. Mr Hadi escaped to Aden and then Riyadh where he rallied the support of Arab neighbours who formed the Saudi-led coalition to restore the government and drive back the Houthis.

Five years later, the country has been battered and fractured by the conflict and now suffers what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Earlier this year, the coalition called a unilateral ceasefire to help the country try and stop the coronavirus pandemic. However, the rebels rejected the move and continued their offensives leading the coalition to resume operations last week.