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Torture in Yemen: Multiple Powers and One Behavior

Yemen: Torture in detention under both Ansar Allah-Saleh defacto authority and authority of president Hadi’s government and its allied groups.
Sat - (24 Jun 2017) - Press Releases

SANA'A - Saturday, June 24, 2017:


In a statement issued on the occasion of International Day in Support of Torture Victims, dated on June 26 every year, Mwatana Organization for Human Rights said that the conflict parties in Yemen have used torture as a systematic method to impose and entrench their domination over the areas under their control.


The Organization reported that it had investigated 30 cases of torture, in which at least three detainees passed away as a result of torture in detention centers run by the Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) and its ally, the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.


As well, "Mwatana" had investigated around 26 cases of torture, in which at least one detainee passed away, in detention centers run by of the security belt forces, forces affiliate to security directorate in the governorate of Aden, and the Hadrami elite forces.


These forces carry out security and arrest functions in the areas of southern Yemen, controlled by the government of President Abdo Rabo Mansur Hadi and the Arab Coalition led by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


Mwatana Organization said that it is required that the Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) and its ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the government of President Hadi and its pro-forces and groups should initiate independent and transparent investigations into torture in prisons and detention centers of both parties, including private detention centers and interrogation rooms run by them.


"Mwatana" stressed on the need for bringing those responsible for such violations from all parties to justice and that all parties, in the exercise of their functions or activities, should abide by the principles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in order to stop this pattern of gross violations.


Radhya al-Mutawakil, the Chairperson of Mwatana Organization stated: "The prevalence of torture in this horrific fashion does not indicate that they are merely reflect an individual case, but a systematic behavior to deal with detainees with a green light from the various authorities. These parties must be aware that torture is a crime not subject to statute of limitations".


"Mwatana" talked to a number of victims of torture and ill-treatment. They described a variety of practices they had been subjected to such as being detained in overcrowded narrow rooms, handcuffing to the back, exposure to kicking and beating with various tools, including batons and metal bars. They also said that they had been exposed to insults and humiliations on the basis of allegations accusing them of supporting or spying for political and military adversaries, denying them food, water and health care.


On August 30, 2016, "Mwatana" released a documentary entitled "False Report," which unveils the lethal torture exercised by Ansar Allah (Houthis) in the Political Security Organization in the governorate of Ibb, at the center of Yemen.


In this documentary, Khalil al-Zaidi (28 years) and his brother Amir (24 years) tell what they have suffered along with their brother Mujahid (22 years) who passed away under torture hours after they were arrested on Tuesday, 22 December 2015.


Khalil said: "I saw them dragging my brother Mujahid from his cell to the interrogation room. I was tired at that moment. Two or three hours later, I heard Mujahid screaming," Help me ... help me! "His continued screaming for about 15 minutes, during which I heard the interrogator saying to him "make a confession"; and then his screams faded out. Mujahid, who was screaming: "Help me ... help me ... we can no longer hear him, and that night they were cutting our hairs because it was the night of the Prophet's birth. The barber stepped into the cell of Mujahid and found him lying dead on the ground".


Torture and Killing in Detention Centers:


"Mwatana" documented the incident of torture and killing of Walid al-Ibbi (26 years) in the Criminal Investigation Department in Sana'a, controlled by Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the forces of former President Saleh.


Al-Ibbi was arbitrarily detained in front of his home in Sana'a on Thursday, 10 November 2016 at 8:00 pm.


Nabil Al-Ibbi (29 years) the brother of the victim, told "Mwatana": "Two military vehicles, with about 12 persons on board wearing uniforms of Special Security Forces (formerly the Central Security), arrived and intercepted Walid's car. Six of them stepped down from one of the vehicles, and three of them, who were masked, searched Walid's car, while the rest of them dragged him from one of his hands. Screams of his wife, who was with him, and her attempts to catch his other hand were useless".


Walid was moved to the prison of the Criminal Investigation Department in Sana'a, according to his brother Nabil’s testimony. The brother of the victim confirmed that he did not know the place in which Walid was detained except in the next morning when one of the leaders of Ansar Allah (Houthis) told him that "Walid is being held in the Criminal Investigation Department; and that they are conducting routine interrogations with him".


Walid was held incommunicado. After four days during which Nabil was unable to visit and meet his brother, and on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, he was informed by one of the supervisors of Ansar Allah (Houthis) at the prison of the Criminal Investigation Department that he can see his brother Walid, but "as a dead body in the morgue of Kuwait Public Hospital". “The supervisor added that my brother had committed suicide and was suffering from psychological disorders", Nabil added bitterly.


"Mwatana" has got a copy of the report of the forensic pathologist on the state of the corpse of Walid al-Ibbi. The report states that the cause of the death was "a severe hemorrhage, a laceration and crushing of the brain substance resulting from a gunshot". The report also notes that the shot penetration was between the right eyebrow and the right ear, and it went out the left temple, and that the distance of the gunshot "did not exceed 1 meter". In addition, the report notes that "the back of the right hand is free of gunpowder remnants and blood spray resulting from the reverse backlash of the gunshot". One of the conclusions (in the report) is that "the amount of bruises and abrasions throughout the body" shows that Al-Ibbi was suffered of "severe abuse and violence".


Radhya al-Mutawakil says: "This incident of torture and killing, together with similar incidents documented by "Mwatana", provides another example that reveals the black record of human rights violations exercised by Houthis and Saleh authorities in the governorates under their control, and that those involved in these gross violations must not escape punishment".


Torture is a Tool for Investigation and Interrogation:


The practice of torture in detention centers and prisons was not an exclusive monopoly for Ansar Allah (Houthis) and Saleh forces. Torture is also practiced in areas under the authority of President Hadi and the Arab Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, by the security belt forces, the Hadrami elite forces and forces affiliate to security directorate in the governorate of Aden.


"Mwatana" investigations show that these authorities use torture during investigation and interrogation to grab confessions from arrested or detained.


On Friday, January 15, 2016, five masked gunmen in uniform of the security belt forces arrested Aseel Abdullah (24 year) whose family relies on his profession as a coal seller. Aseel was arrested in front of his home in the District of Khanfar, the governorate of Abyan, south of Yemen, and he was moved to the building of the security directorate in the center of the District of Zanjibar, where he faced allegations of being a member of Al-Qaeda.


Aseel told "Mwatana": "I was moved to appear before the commander of the security belt, who immediately ordered his men to take me to the coast without asking me any question. They blindfolded my eyes after my hands were tied, and took me to the coast at about 8:00 pm in a military vehicle. They pulled me out of the vehicle and dragged me on the sands, and they beat me with rifle butts. Then, they laid me on my back and began to put loads of sand in my mouth, eyes and ears. That torture continued for an hour; during which, they also stuffed a piece of cloth filled with water into my mouth until my breath was about to vanish. Within that time, they asked me to confess my affiliation with Al-Qaeda and to name the persons in the Organization I am working with, and what my capacity is in the Organization. When I told them that I am just a coal seller and I am not with Al-Qaeda, their anger increased and started burning me with the flame of lighters and putting off cigarettes all over my body. I kept screaming while they kept asking me to confess and then they would leave me alone in turn".


Aseel Abdullah was detained in a narrow and dirty cell with 16 people also imprisoned in the same cell in poor conditions. He was released on March 25, 2017. The victim added: "They have imprisoned and tortured me without any guilt, I did nothing ... I did nothing".


"Mwatana" also documented the use of torture against a child by the security belt forces to force him to convict himself. A checkpoint of the security belt forces arrested the child Saeed Awadh (15 years) in the area of Hassan, the District of Zanjibar, the governorate of Abyan on 12 December 2016 at 10 pm.


Saeed was seeking the help of the security checkpoint soldiers after he lost his way to Shuqrah area, where his uncle's home is located, which he goes to in fear of being reprimanded by his father. The soldiers at the security checkpoint justified the arrest of the child by claiming that he is working as a spy for Al-Qaeda.


Ahmed Awadh (50 years) the father of Saeed, told "Mwatana" that his son was arrested by a checkpoint of the security belt forces, and that he was held in a cell inside the security directorate of the governorate of Abyan, where the boy was tortured there.


Ahmed said: "Saeed returned home late that night, pushing me to reprimand him and beat him. Then, he left the home, and I thought that he might go to nearby. I did not know that he would escape to Shuqrah where his uncle lives. When it was too late for him to return to home, I went out looking for him at the homes of neighbors and relatives, but I could not find him".


After midnight, at 2:00 am, Awadh received a call from the security directorate of the governorate of Abyan reporting him that his son Saeed is detained there; and that they arrested him on charges of drug use and involvement in espionage assignments for Al-Qaeda.


Ahmed added: "I went to the police station in the governorate security directorate and I was allowed to meet Saeed; where I found him crying, as he was exposed to beating and rubbing his ears strongly, and he told me that they threatened to place him in a cell with a mad person. When I asked them to release him, they said that the security belt officer is not present and that they could only release him when the officer returns from the weekend". Awadh continued his words while saddened: "I returned two days later and I found that my son, Saeed, was tortured by burning. They set fire on plastic bags and left them dripping on his hands. They have burnt my son".


Radhya al-Mutawakil comments on these violations by saying: "The record of the armed forces and groups loyal to President Hadi was not better than the record of their adversaries in respect of human rights. The exercise of this brutal violation must be stopped forthwith and not to be justified under any circumstances".


International humanitarian law and international human rights law prohibit torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment and do not justify it under any circumstances. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the prohibition of torture, as prohibited by customary international law, and it is binding even on States not party to the relevant human rights treaties.


Article 11 of the Convention Against Torture provides that each State shall comply with the rules governing the interrogation, its instructions, methods and practices, as well as the arrangements for the detention and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment with a view to preventing any cases of torture. In 1991, Yemen ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


Torture through Denial of Medical Care:


Authorities controlling the capital of Sana'a, represented by Ansar Allah (Houthis) and the forces loyal to the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have denied detainees access to medical care after being tortured in detention centers and prisons.


"Mwatana" documented incidents in which Ansar Allah (Houthis) and Saleh forces have denied detainees access to medical care necessary for them in governorates under their control.


In an interview with "Mwatana", Sultan Seylan (37 years) delivered his testimony on the arrest of his brother Abdulelah (20 years) a member of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform Party (Islah Party) and Secretary-General of the Future Cultural Club, on Wednesday morning, August 19, 2015. Sultan said that his brother, Abdulelah, was leaving a restaurant in the capital of Sana'a accompanied by one of his friends, and while he was about to ride in his car, he was attacked by four persons in civil uniforms who were riding in a taxi. Sultan added that the attackers beat his brother, grabbed him and dragged him into their car and then left the place to an unknown destination. Seylan did not know where his brother Abdulelah was held but only after around one and half month when a relative of his family told him that Abdulelah is held in the Political Security Organization in Sana'a and that he receives bad treatment there.


In his statement, Sultan confirmed that they were allowed to visit Abdulelah two weeks after knowing his place of detention. He said: Signs of severe exhaustion and tiredness on my brother Abdulelah were clear. He told us that he was subjected to torture, and that he was hung for eight days on the wall of his narrow cell, and he complained of severe pain in his back because of beating. When he attempted to show us traces of wounds on his back, the guards prohibited him". He continued saying: "He is suffering from typhoid fever and fungi in his stomach, as they have denied him access to healthcare, Abdulelah is no longer the person who we know, he has become like a skeleton".


In another incident, Samir (an alias) (22 years) told "Mwatana" that he was arrested several times by Ansar Allah (Houthis) in the governorate of Amran, which was taken over by Ansar Allah in July 2014, and that he was held in more than one location. Samir says: "Every time I was arrested, they would tie my hands, and blindfold my eyes and beat me with rifle butts, despite that I would not resist them. One time, I was held for three weeks in the stadium, and after an attempt to escape after the bombing of the stadium by the Arab coalition warplanes, I jumped and my leg was broken. They beat me on my head with a baton and hung me to the ceiling with my head to the downward, then they poured the sewage over my entire body. Afterwards, they gave me a little piece of cotton and a substance that stops bleeding called Mercurochrome". Samir continues saying: "A doctor is not brought nor anyone allowed to visit him unless there are critical cases in the prison. My broken leg swollen two weeks after the daily beating, and when the doctor came for the first time and after examining me, he reported that I must be moved out of prison for treatment, but one of the supervisors of Ansar Allah prevented me from going out for treatment at all".


Samir concluded by stating that all detention centers and prisons lack the minimal humane treatment or medical care.


Torture of Journalists:


"Mwatana" documented a number of incidents of exposure of journalists and prisoners of conscience to assault, torture and ill-treatment in detention centers and prisons run by Ansar Allah (Houthis) and Saleh forces, and denial of the wounded of access to adequate medical care.


On May 3, 2017, "Mwatana" Organization issued a statement under the title of "Press in Yemen faces the Risk of Eradication", which shows a wide range of gross violations that affected the press profession and those working therein in Yemen by various parties, primarily by Ansar Allah (Houthis) and Saleh forces.  


"Mwatana" interviewed Tawfik Al-Mansouri (29 years old) and Abdulkhaliq Imran (30 years old), at al-Thawra Remand Prison in Sana'a along with seven other journalists. Al-Mansouri and Imran appeared with very pale, thin and weak bodies, and with deep eyes and long beards, and their voices were too flimsy during the interview. They reported having been tortured by tying their hands behind their backs and hanging them to the roof for a whole day. They said that the detention prison is cold and that they could not see the sun but only twice within six months.


There are different patterns of torture that were documented by Mwatana Organization, including beatings, waterboarding and psychological violence by threatening detainees and prisoners to harm their families. "Mwatana" investigations also revealed the poor conditions in detention centers and prisons, which lack hygiene and medical care.


Radhya al-Mutawakil says: "The policy of impunity must be stopped, and the international community must undertake its role to support the victims of torture in Yemen by lobbying for the establishment of an independent international mechanism for enquiry in violations by all the conflict parties in Yemen".

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