TAKEN AND TOR­TURED

Ex-in­mates say abuse rife in pris­ons run by Ye­men rebels

The Times-Tribune - - NATION & WORLD - BY MAG­GIE MICHAEL

MARIB, Ye­men — Farouk Baakar’s mis­take was tak­ing a selfie.

The Ye­meni medic was on duty at al-Rashid hos­pi­tal the day when a bleed­ing man was brought into the emer­gency room with gun­shot wounds and signs of tor­ture. He had been dumped on the side of a high­way af­ter be­ing held in a prison run by the Houthi mili­ti­a­men who control north­ern Ye­men. He’d been whipped across the back and hung by his wrists for days.

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.

Mili­ti­a­men stormed the hos­pi­tal in the port city of Hodeida, blind­folded Baakar and hus­tled him away in a pickup. 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.”

Be­cause he’d given med­i­cal help to an en­emy of the Houthis, they told him, he was now their en­emy too. Af­ter his ar­rest in mid-2016, he spent 18 months im­pris­oned. Dur­ing that time, he says, they burned him, beat him and chained him to the ceil­ing by his wrists.

Baakar, who was freed in De­cem­ber 2017 af­ter his fam­ily paid the equiv­a­lent of $8,000, and his pa­tient are among thou­sands im­pris­oned by Houthi rebels dur­ing Ye­men’s fouryear civil war. Many of them, an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion found, suf­fered ex­treme tor­ture — smashed in their faces with ba­tons, hung by their wrists or gen­i­tals for weeks at a time or 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 pre­vi­ous pris­oner swaps who said they saw marks of tor­ture on in­mates.

These ac­counts un­der­score the sig­nif­i­cance of an agree­ment on a pris­oner swap reached in Swe­den on Thurs­day at the start of U.n.-spon­sored peace talks be­tween Ye­men’s Shi­ite Houthi rebels and the Ye­meni gov­ern­ment, backed by Saudi Ara­bia and the United States. As a trust-build­ing mea­sure, the two sides agreed to re­lease sev­eral thou­sand pris­on­ers, though de­tails still must be ham­mered out.

But while the gov­ern­ment would re­lease cap­tured Houthi fighters, the rebels would largely free civil­ians who, like Baakar, were im­pris­oned dur­ing 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 Ab­ductees’ Moth­ers Union, an as­so­ci­a­tion of fe­male rel­a­tives of de­tainees jailed by 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.

Houthi lead­ers pre­vi­ously have de­nied they en­gage in tor­ture, though they did not re­spond to re­peated AP re­quests for com­ment in re­cent weeks. The Houthis’ Hu­man Rights Min­istry said in late 2016 that “there is no pol­icy or sys­tem­atic use of tor­ture on pris­on­ers.”

But within the move­ment, a mod­er­ate fac­tion has ac­knowl­edged abuses and sought to end them. Yahia al-Houthi, the brother of the group’s top leader, set up a com­mit­tee in 2016 to in­ves­ti­gate re­ports of tor­ture. It helped free 13,500 pris­on­ers in its first three months.

NA­RI­MAN EL-MOFTY / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Monir al-sharqi, a Ye­meni lab tech­ni­cian, dis­ap­peared for a year. His fam­ily and other ac­tivists be­lieve he was tor­tured by Ye­men’s Houthi rebels, who fi­nally doused him with acid and dumped him in a stream.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.