Pris­on­ers re­call bru­tal tor­ture by Houthi rebels

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Mag­gie Michael Mag­gie Michael is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

MARIB, Ye­men — 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’d 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 Houthi rebels who control north­ern Ye­men.

Baakar spent hours re­mov­ing bul­lets and re­pair­ing a 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’d 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.

These ac­counts un­der­score the sig­nif­i­cance of a pris­oner-swap agree­ment reached Thurs­day at the start of U.N.-spon­sored peace talks in Swe­den be­tween the Houthi rebels and the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment backed by Saudi Ara­bia and the U.S.

As a con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sure, the two sides agreed to re­lease thou­sands of pris­on­ers, though de­tails must still be worked out. But while the coali­tion side would re­lease cap­tured Houthi fighters, the rebels would largely free civil­ians who, like Baakar, were im­pris­oned in bru­tal sweeps aimed at sup­press­ing op­po­si­tion and ob­tain­ing cap­tives who could be traded for ran­som or ex­changed for Houthi fighters held by the other side.

The Houthis re­leased Baakar in 2017 af­ter his fam­ily paid about $8,000.

Na­ri­man El-Mofty / As­so­ci­ated Press

Nurses tend to se­vere burns cover­ing Monir al-Sharqi at a hos­pi­tal in Marib. His fam­ily said the lab tech­ni­cian was tor­tured by Houthi rebels, who doused him with acid and dumped him in a stream.

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