April 14, 2020
A major press freedom watchdog has condemned the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen for its decision to sentence four journalists to death.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a Houthi court in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, sentenced Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram Al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri to death.
“At a time when Yemen needs accurate news and information more than ever, this sentence is truly dismaying and will put the Houthis beyond the pale internationally should it stand,” said Justin Shilad, a senior Middle East and North Africa researcher at the CPJ.
“We urge the Houthis to immediately reverse this decision and release all journalists in their custody.”
The CPJ said the court reporting sent to them revealed that the journalists were charged with spreading false news in support of Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The journalists’ lawyer, Abdel Majeed Farea Sabra, said he will appeal the verdict. He told the CPJ that he was denied the opportunity to sufficiently represent his clients or defend them in court, including when the sentence was handed down.
This is not an isolated incident of the Houthis violating press freedom, with multiple cases documented of journalist detentions and the use of torture on members of the press.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government recently called for a two-week cease-fire to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The Houthis have dismissed the call.
Meanwhile, six more journalists — Hesham Tarmoum, Hisham Al-Yousifi, Essam Balghaith, Haitham Al-Shihab, Hassan Anaab and Salah Al-Qaedy — were imprisoned and sentenced to three years of so-called police supervision, according to Sabra and others aware of the Houthi court proceedings.
With the Houthis effectively in control of key areas of Yemen’s state apparatus — including the judiciary and intelligence agencies — there is little hope for the sentences to be overturned, or for the journalists to be afforded freedom to do their work.