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Calls on Yemen rebels to release detained journalists sentenced to death

The journalists have been detained for five years [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 April, 2020

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The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] called on Yemen's Houthi rebels to release four journalists that were sentenced to death.
A prominent journalists' organisation has slammed a recent decision by Yemen's Houthi rebels to sentence four journalists to death, according a statement by the group on Sunday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] called on the rebels to release Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed, and Tawfiq al-Mansouri, all of which were sentenced to death in a court proceeding in the rebel-held capital.

"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," CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad said.

"We urge the Houthis to immediately reverse this decision and release all journalists in their custody."

The journalists, who have been detained by the rebels for five years, were sentenced "on charges of treason and spying for foreign states", according to a copy of an indictment.

CPJ's statement also shed light on another six journalists who were sentenced to prison and three years of so-called police supervision.

The statement identified them as Hesham Tarmoum, Hisham al-Yousifi, Essam Balghaith, Haitham al-Shihab, Hassan Anaab, and Salah Al-Qaedy, according to information from the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate.

The court decisions were handed down without the presence of any lawyers for the journalists, according to the journalists’ lawyer, Abdel Majeed Farea Sabra, who noted the judge had barred them from the court since January 27.

Yemen's internationally recognised government had also criticised the the ruling.

"We strongly condemn the illegal death sentences" in a trial lacking "min. standard of justice & integrity", information minister Moammar Al-Eryani wrote on Twitter.

Yemen's Houthi rebels seized Sanaa from government forces in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention the following year. 

Read also: In-depth: How war has handcuffed journalism in Yemen

The ensuing war has killed more than 100,000 and plunged the Arab world's poorest country into what the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian crisis.

In an Amnesty report last month, the rights watchdog criticised the rebels' Specialised Criminal Court, which issued Saturday's ruling.

Naming the four journalists sentenced on Saturday along with six others, it said they had been "prosecuted on trumped-up spying charges for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression".

"Journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and members of religious minorities are among those subjected to unfair trial on spurious or trumped-up charges by this court," Amnesty said. 

It said accusations of spying carried mandatory death sentences under Yemeni law.

Read also: Yemen in Focus: UN's lax approach 'emboldens Houthi violence'

According to a Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) annual report on press freedom worldwide, Yemen ranked 168th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index.

Over the last five years, journalists are known to have been killed, held hostage or forcibly disappeared. According to the RSF’s report, two journalists were killed in Yemen in last year between January 1 to December 1.

Since the beginning of the war in 2015, 15 journalists remain hostage mainly in the Houthi-held areas. 

Meanwhile, journalists are also imprisoned and tortured by Saudi forces and their Yemeni allies, as documented in an HRW exposé on abuses against locals in Al-Mahrah, Yemen's eastern governorate.

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