Our Rights Come First, Our Freedom Comes Always

The precarious margin of rights and freedoms praised by political pluralism after the year 90 has been completely undermined by the ongoing war in Yemen since mid-2014, in light of the domination of powers that appear multi-headed whose practices, however, are marred by a single arrogant behavior when it comes to public life and the rights and freedoms of civilians.

Monday, December 14, 2020
Our Rights Come First, Our Freedom Comes Always

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How the War Undermined the Margin of Rights and Freedoms in Yemen

Monday, December 14, 2020

Ryan Alshaibani

The precarious margin of rights and freedoms praised by political pluralism after the year 90 has been completely undermined by the ongoing war in Yemen since mid-2014, in light of the domination of powers that appear multi-headed whose practices, however, are marred by a single arrogant behavior when it comes to public life and the rights and freedoms of civilians.

Day by day, civic manifestations and features disappear, which before those years were an indication that the rule of law can be achieved, to be replaced by a single color of violent expression and hate speech that uses the past as fuel to move the country backward for many years.

During the past three decades, which witnessed the unity of the country, and subsequently the promulgation of laws for parties and unions, the partisan and private newspapers were able to compete with the newspapers that were issued by the government. They were able to shed light on the negative phenomena that accompanied the performance of the ruling authorities, and created a kind of constructive opposition that it would reduce corruption and favoritism in the public apparatus. This press margin was subjected to repression and restriction campaigns in various periods of time. However, it did not reach the extent that the situation witnessed after mid-2014.

For nearly six years, after the destruction of the Yemeni State and the establishment of "de facto" states, the conflicting parties have kept newspapers, journalists and media workers subject to their hideous practices, and committed various patterns of violation against them, such as arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, abusive and degrading treatment, restricting freedom of media personnel, and confiscating newspapers.

In addition to the critical conditions surrounding the journalistic work environment, the economic crisis resulting from the war contributed to the suspension of the majority of press media institutions, including those owned by the state. Nearly a thousand journalists working in government media suffer from a stifling humanitarian and living crisis that threatens their lives and that of their families, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

The 2020 Press Freedom Index, according to the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis, said that Yemen has dropped one place on the global press freedom index to be ranked 167th out of 180 countries in the analysis. The index also says that Yemen is still one of the most difficult countries for the profession of journalism and is the most dangerous to the lives of journalists.

Although the case of journalists held by the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) witnessed progress, in mid-October 2020, by the release of five journalists (Hisham Tarmoom, Hisham Al-Yousfi, and Haitham Abdul Rahman Al-Shihab, Issam Amin Bel-Ghaith, and Hassan Annab) as part of a broad deal to exchange detainees between Ansar Allah group and the internationally recognized government, the Ansar Allah group, however, is still holding at least nine others.

Recently, the family of the journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansoori, who has been detained for more than five years, said in media statements that his health has deteriorated, and he suffered from serious diseases, including heart rheumatism, kidney failure and asthma, due to his being inflicted to brutal methods of psychological and physical torture, malnutrition, lack of health care, and ban visits to him for several periods.

On June 3, 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing a source in the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, said that a group of armed men in military uniforms killed the journalist, Nabil Al-Quaety, who had been working as a reporter and photographer for French Press Agency (AFP) since 2015, by shooting him as he left his home in Dar Saad District of Aden.

Inasmuch as they are civilians, journalists are protected under international humanitarian law against direct attacks unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. The international human rights law also requires the safeguarding of the right to freedom of expression in a manner that meets the protection of journalists so that they are not exposed to any form of violence.

Freedom of Movement

During the last years of the war, Yemen witnessed severe restrictions on the right of people to move and travel, whether between the Yemeni governorates or outside the borders of the country, after the parties to the conflict gave themselves the right to stop and search people at security checkpoints on the roads, and to make false accusations against them based on their areas, surnames, or destinations. They also gave themselves the right to hold people for long hours, and in other cases to take them to places of detention to be enforced disappeared there. In addition to the violations that are carried out for the purposes of extortion, illegal gain, and the imposition of illegal royalties.

In 2019 only, Mwatana documented 29 incidents of restricting freedom of movement between different Yemeni regions. The Ansar Allah group (Houthis) is responsible for 17 of those incidents; the government forces of Hadi are responsible for 8; the UAE-backed Southern Transition Councel (STC) is responsible for 3; 1 incident at least remains shared between the Houthi group and government forces.

Sana’a International Airport has been closed since August 2016, forcing travelers to travel by land for long hours to get to Aden or Seiyun airports in order for they fly to their destinations outside Yemen.

In the view of the hardship of traveling by land from Sana'a to Seiyun Airport due to the poor condition and length of the road travellers take nowadays from Sana'a to Seiyun by bus, the trip to Seiyun from Sana'a takes 24 hours, and one and a half or two days from Hodeidah (in the far west) or Saada (in the far north).

It is a long road, and needs to be maintained. Wide parts of it are not asphalt-paved. Along this road, which passes through five governorates (Sana'a, Dhamar, Al Bayda, Ma'rib, and Hadramout), and interspersed with mountains, valleys and deserts, there are nearly 30 security checkpoints of all warring parties. Travelers are stopped successively at these checkpoints along the road, and are deliberately delayed.

International human rights law guarantees civilians’ freedom of movement and movement as one of their basic rights. This law remains in effect even in times of armed conflicts. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also stipulates that “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.”

Peaceful Assembly

During the last years of the war, the forms of peaceful assembly and expression in Yemen witnessed a diminution with the propagation of violent repression and the restriction of the right of people to claim their rights, or prevent them from protesting against the deterioration of living and security situation in the areas in which they live.

In spite the parties to the conflict allow themselves to assemble and mobilize people for several flimsy reasons, they have resorted in many cases to suppress their independent right to express what they want or reject. In recent years, Mwatana has documented many incidents of suppressing peaceful assembly and demonstrations in different Yemeni governorates. Almost all parties to the conflict share this pattern of systematic abuse.

International human rights law, which is not extinguished by armed conflict, guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Yemen, stipulates that "the right to peaceful assembly shall be recognized, and no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right except for those imposed in accordance with the law."

Religious Minorities

After years of persecution and stalking, the case of the Baha'i community in Yemen has witnessed remarkable progress, but it remains insufficient to preserve their right to freedom of worship and religious practice. On March 23, 2020, the Appeals Court in Sanaa upheld the death sentence issued against Hamid Haydara, after a lengthy and unfair trial that lasted nearly five years. However, Mahdi Al-Mashat, head of the political council of Ansar Allah Group (Houthis), announced on March 25, 2020 the Group's intention to release all Baha'i prisoners, and to pardon Haydara.

In a press release on Thursday, July 30, 2020, the International Baha'i Community announced in a statement that six prominent Baha'is have been released after being held for several years by the "Houthi" authorities in Sana'a. Although the released persons were transported by plane from Sana'a to outside Yemen, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana'a surprised everyone, at the end of August 2020, by continuing in the trial of 24 Baha'is, including the persons whose charges were dropped, and were transferred abroad.

Working to promote and establish the culture of human rights in Yemen has become an urgent issue to put an end to the behavior of the groups and authorities that act outside the framework of the law, and stop their violations that would undermine public rights and freedoms. Thus, we preserve our rights first, on the basis of which we hope and strive to always obtain our freedom.