Saudi forces 'electrocuting, beating, disappearing' Yemeni detainees: HRW

Saudi forces 'electrocuting, beating, disappearing' Yemeni detainees: HRW
4 min read
25 March, 2020
A new Human Rights Report sheds light on the illegal detention, reported abuse and illegal relocation of detained Yemenis in the al-Mahrah area.
Yemen forces [Getty]
Saudi forces in Yemen have been accused of detaining, torturing and illegally transferring Yemenis to Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch alleged on Tuesday.

The Saudi military and Riyadh-backed Yemeni forces have carried out serious abuses against Yemenis since June 2019 in Al-Mahrah, Yemen's eastern governorate, a new report by the rights group said.

These abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, and illegal transfer of detainees to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi military forces and Saudi-backed Yemeni forces have a long and bloody history of human rights abuses since the war began four years ago.

In a series of interviews with former detainees, journalists and activists, the organisation has pieced together a brutal image of state-sponsored abuse in informal detention facilities.

Three former detainees claim Yemeni local forces supervised by Saudi officers abused and tortured them, subjecting them to beatings, electric shocks and threats to harm family members.

They were also accused of ties with Lebanese Hezbollah and ties to Qatar.

Saudi Arabia has also arrested demonstrators protesting the presence of foreign troops in Yemen.

Former detainees said they were accused of supporting Saudi opponents, including the Houthis, and were interrogated and tortured at an informal detention facility at the Al-Ghaydah airport.

A document bearing a stamp of President Hadi's office, dated April 2019 refers to the detention there of a person arrested by the "central apparatus for political security", Yemen's domestic intelligence service.

Families of detainees accused Saudi forces of forcibly disappearing at least five detainees, while illegally transferring them to Riyadh without providing information to their loved ones about their whereabouts.

"Saudi forces and their Yemeni allies' series abuses against local Mahra residents is another horror to add to the list of the Saudi-led coalition's unlawful conduct in Yemen," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

One detainee, a journalist, said he was kept blindfolded and was beaten and tortured with electric shocks.

"The Saudi and Yemeni security men forced me to sign a pledge to not do journalism work in al-Mahrah and not to communicate with ‘Iran-allied’ Shi’ite Hezbollah, Qatar, or Oman," he said.

"I went on hunger strike for a whole week demanding they hand me over to the public prosecution, but in the end they forced me to eat. At this stage, I realised I was in a prison run by the Saudi army in al-Ghaydah civilian airport and I heard a man scream in pain under torture in the next room."

He added: "After a few days, they moved me to another prison in an unknown military base. In this prison, no jailer was Yemeni. No one. Zero. They all spoke with Saudi dialects."

Read More: Yemen in Focus: Despite rumours, thousands test negative for coronavirus in war-torn Yemen

The organisation documented the forced detention of 16 people by Saudi and Saudi-backed forces between June 2019 and February 2020 in al-Mahrah governorate - though that number is likely much higher.

Eleven were moved to Saudi Arabia, and the other six were men from northern Yemen arrested while crossing the border from Oman back into Yemen following medical treatment there, an Al-Mahrah activist said.

A history of abuse

An estimated 10,000 have haven killed in the Yemen war since March 2015, though rights groups say the death tolls is much higher.

Described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis by the United Nations, the war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi and UAE-backed government has left millions on the edge of famine, and vulnerable.

British and American-made bombs may have killed or injured more than 1,000 Yemeni civilians, including women and children, a new report released on Wednesday said.

Germany on Tuesday extended a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia in an effort to stop the brutality of the war, which is supported by foreign arms sales.

Saudi forces in Yemen have flouted international law and international human rights law; torture or transfer to torture is strictly prohibited, as is enforced disappearance and the detention of someone without reporting their status or whereabouts.

"The Saudi and Yemeni governments should immediately release any Yemenis wrongfully detained or transferred to Saudi Arabia and investigate alleged torture and enforced disappearance by their forces in Al-Mahrah," Page said.

Why Al-Mahrah?

Al-Mahrah is a remote part of Yemen’s far east, bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia.

The region has been used by Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government to create a "military police" security unit as part of its "counter-terrorism" efforts in the country.

In reality, this has led to series abuses in the region, and prompted Yemeni community leaders to organise peaceful demonstrations against the presence of Saudi forces.

Such protests were dispersed by pro-Saudi forces using live bullets in November 2018.

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