Yemen: Immediately Release Arbitrarily Detained Judge Qatran

Tuesday, March 5, 2024
Yemen: Immediately Release Arbitrarily Detained Judge Qatran

The Houthis must immediately and unconditionally release Abdulwahab Mohammad Qatran, a Yemeni judge arrested on 2 January 2024 after voicing criticism of the Houthis on social media, Mwatana for Human Rights and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said today. Qatran has not yet been officially charged with any offense and has not had access to his lawyer, in violation of his due process rights. 

“After targeting journalists, activists, and members of religious minorities with arbitrary arrest and torture, the Houthis are now going after a prominent judge who did nothing but exercise his right to freedom of speech. The circle of repression is widening and such escalation must end,” said Amna Guellali, Research Director at CIHRS.

Judge Qatran has publicly criticized the Houthis, including for their latest attacks on shipments in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s genocidal campaign against Palestinians in Gaza. In one of his latest posts on X, a few days before his arrest, he wrote, alluding to the Houthis pledge to fight America: “Thirty million people did not delegate you to fight America. Fight hunger, poverty, ignorance, disease … corruption and injustice ...” 

According to the judge’s son, who spoke to our organizations, forces from the Houthis and intelligence stormed their house on 2 January 2024, around 10 am, without showing an arrest warrant and without identifying themselves. They took the judge and his three sons into different military vehicles stationed in front of their homes, where they were kept for hours.

Around 6 pm on the same day, the judges’ sons were allowed to leave the vehicles. Upon their release, they found that security and intelligence forces had searched their house and confiscated the family’s phones, laptops, and documents. They also saw a car full of alcohol bottles displayed in front of the neighborhood as being allegedly found inside the judge’s house.

According to the family’s lawyer, the same forces held the judge’s wife and other female members in a room where they informally questioned them about the judge’s alleged alcohol drinking and trafficking. The wife was then forced to sign a document without being allowed to read it.

Judge Qatran was subjected to enforced disappearance as his family was not informed of his whereabouts until authorities confirmed three days later that he was being held at the security and intelligence detention center in Sana’a. He remains in the same detention facility.

Judge Qatran has received three visits from his family since his arrest, on 6 and 28 January and on 17 February. He was held in solitary confinement for at least 37 days. During the second visit, which lasted only a few minutes,  he told his son, “I am dead”. Although he was moved to a new cell with better conditions on 7 February, he remains in solitary confinement. Under international standards, solitary confinement for more than fifteen consecutive days may constitute torture. 

The family’s lawyer filed numerous visits requests, including at the General Prosecutor’s office, and they were all denied. The lawyer also confirmed that until now the judge has not been formally accused of anything. This constitutes a breach of international human rights standards, which give suspects the right to be promptly informed of any charges and to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice during all the phases of the proceedings. 

According to the Yemeni Judicial Authority Law of 1991, judges enjoy immunity,  which precludes the arrest of a judge without permission from the Supreme Judicial Council. Under this law, the minister of justice should request authorization from the President of the Supreme Judicial Council in order to arrest a judge. Not only was Judge Qatran arrested without this authorization, but his immunity as a judge has been revoked, as the Public Prosecutor informed the defense lawyer on 10 February. 

Judge Qatran’s family and their lawyer have submitted official complaints to the Supreme Judicial Council, Public Prosecutor, and the Ministry of Human Rights calling for the release of the judge. 

The arrest of Judge Qatran comes amid the Houthis’ continued crackdown on rights in Yemen including enforced disappearances, arrests of journalists, and assaulting and torturing of activists.

“The Houthis must immediately release Judge Abdulwahab Qatran and refrain from committing any violations that would undermine the judicial system in Yemen, and the principle of rule of law. Continuing to arbitrarily detain Judge Qatran would contribute to the continued erosion of Yemenis’ trust in the judiciary and in all entities and institutions entrusted with law enforcement and the protection of rights and freedoms,“ said Radhya Almutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights.