Ex-cap­tives de­scribe tor­ture by Houthi mili­tias

Arab News - - News Middle East - AP Marib AP

Farouk Baakar was on duty as a medic at Al-Rashid hos­pi­tal the day a bleed­ing man was brought into the emer­gency room with gun­shot wounds and signs of tor­ture. He had been whipped across the back and hung by his wrists for days.

The pa­tient, Baakar learned, had been left for dead by the side of a high­way af­ter be­ing held cap­tive in a prison run by the Houthis who control north­ern Ye­men.

Baakar spent hours re­mov­ing bul­lets and re­pair­ing rup­tured in­tes­tine. He tended to the pa­tient’s re­cov­ery for 80 days and, at the end, agreed to pose for a selfie with him.

Weeks later, Houthi se­cu­rity of­fi­cials grabbed the man again. They searched his phone and found the photo.

Then they came for Baakar. Mili­ti­a­men stormed the hos­pi­tal, blind­folded Baakar and hus­tled him away in a pickup truck. Be­cause he had given med­i­cal help to an en­emy of the Houthis, they told him, he was now their en­emy too. He spent 18 months in pris­ons within the ex­panse of Ye­men con­trolled by the Houthis. He says they burned him, beat him and chained him to the ceil­ing by his wrists for 50 days un­til they thought he was dead.

Baakar and his pa­tient are among thou­sands of peo­ple who have been im­pris­oned by the Houthi mili­tia dur­ing the four years of Ye­men’s grind­ing civil war.

Many of them, an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found, have suf­fered ex­treme tor­ture — be­ing smashed in their faces with ba­tons, hung from chains by their wrists or gen­i­tals for weeks at a time, and scorched with acid.

The AP spoke with 23 peo­ple who said they sur­vived or wit­nessed tor­ture in Houthi de­ten­tion sites, as well as with eight rel­a­tives of de­tainees, five lawyers and rights ac­tivists, and three se­cu­rity of­fi­cers in­volved in pris­oner swaps who said they saw marks of tor­ture on in­mates.

The Ab­ductees’ Moth­ers Union, an as­so­ci­a­tion of fe­male rel­a­tives of de­tainees jailed by the Houthis, has doc­u­mented more than 18,000 de­tainees in the last four years, in­clud­ing 1,000 cases of tor­ture in a net­work of se­cret pris­ons, ac­cord­ing to Sabah Mo­hammed, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the group in the city of Marib.

The moth­ers’ group says at least 126 pris­on­ers have died from tor­ture since the Houthis took over the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Mosques, an­cient cas­tles, col­leges, clubs and other civil­ian struc­tures have served as first-stop fa­cil­i­ties for thou­sands of de­tainees be­fore they are moved into of­fi­cial pris­ons, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­monies of vic­tims and hu­man rights agen­cies. The mother’s group counted 30 so-called black sites in Sanaa alone.

Houthi lead­ers pre­vi­ously have de­nied that they en­gage in tor­ture, though they did not re­spond to re­peated AP re­quests for com­ment in re­cent weeks.

Abuses by the Houthis have been less vis­i­ble to the out­side world as the rebels worked to elim­i­nate dis­sent and si­lence jour­nal­ists.

From the cap­i­tal, Sanaa, the Houthis rule over around 70 per­cent of Ye­men’s 29 mil­lion peo­ple.

One of the for­mer pris­on­ers of the Houthis who spoke to the AP was a school teacher from the north­ern city of Dhamar who, af­ter his re­lease, fled to Marib.

He asked that he be iden­ti­fied only by his first name, Hus­sein, be­cause he fears for the safety of fam­ily mem­bers still in rebel ter­ri­tory.

He was held for four months and 22 days in an un­der­ground cell. He was blind­folded the en­tire time, he said, but kept count of the days by fol­low­ing the calls to prayer. Through­out his con­fine­ment, he said, his jail­ers beat him with iron rods and told him he was go­ing to die.

“Pre­pare your will,” he said they told him.

‘Pres­sure room’

The selfie of Baakar with an es­caped pris­oner was all the ev­i­dence seven Houthi mili­ti­a­men needed of the medic’s dis­loy­alty when they came for him at Al-Rashid hos­pi­tal.

“How much money did they give you to treat the en­e­mies?” one mili­tia­man screamed in his face.

Baakar says they slapped and kicked him, beat him with ba­tons on his face, teeth and body, and taunted him: “You will be killed be­cause you are a traitor.”

The mili­ti­a­men took him to a lo­ca­tion he could not iden­tify, stood him on a wooden box, chained his wrists to the ceil­ing and then kicked the box out from un­der his feet.

He says they stripped him and whipped his naked body, then pulled out his nails and tore out his hair. He fainted.

“It was so painful, es­pe­cially when they come the next days and press on the bruises with their fin­gers,” he said.

The Houthis be­came more and more cre­ative, Baakar said. They once brought plas­tic bot­tles and with a lighter melted the plas­tic over his head, back, and be­tween his thighs.

Even­tu­ally, Baakar was taken to Hodeida cas­tle, the 500-year-old fortress on the Red Sea coast.

He said guards pushed him into a filthy base­ment known as the “Pres­sure Room” and hung him by his wrists. In a dark cor­ner, he could see shapes of dead cats and even torn fin­gers.

When he grew thirsty, he said, tor­tur­ers splashed wa­ter on his face and he licked off the drops.

Nurses treat a tor­ture vic­tim at the Marib hos­pi­tal.

UN en­voy Staffan de Mis­tura is seek­ing Chi­nese help to con­vince the Syr­ian regime that it’s ‘worth it to make an ef­fort’ to ne­go­ti­ate a new con­sti­tu­tion.

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