On April 11, a Criminal Court in Sanaa – one that was canceled two years ago by the internationally recognized Yemeni Government – sentenced my brother Tawfiq and three of his colleagues in journalism to death for the charge of “spreading false and misleading news and collaborating with the Saudi-led coalition”.
The sentencing court is under the control of the Houthi movement, and its shocking sentence was rendered after my brother and his colleagues had spent nearly 5 years in prison where they were severely tortured and humiliated in catastrophic jail conditions.
In addition to the suffering they had endured, the danger of the coronavirus outbreak in prisons, lacking health requirements and services, has worsened their situation further, since the virus outbreak is considered another death sentence to them.
In light of these new conditions, I believe this is the most critical and urgent time for the Houthi commanders to release journalists, abductees, internees and forcibly disappeared people whose lives will definitely be endangered if coronavirus breaks out in jails and detention centers.
If Houthis are keen on achieving peace and reconciliation in Yemen, they should release my brother and all civil internees who are threatened by death sentences as well as a potential outbreak of a deadly virus in overcrowded prisons.
We have exhausted all our means to have my brother and his colleagues released, but the Houthi commanders insist on treating them as criminals, on the basis of their journalistic activity that they’d practiced five years ago when they were covering the war in their country. Instead of treating them as specialists in the media field, Houthi commanders chose to convict them of “spying and high treason of the nation”.
A Journalist Banned from Reading
My brother Tawfiq is a well-known journalist amongst his circles. He was always eager to improve his profession, as well as his daily life. Before being arrested, he was preparing to take the TOEFL English test. When he was imprisoned, he kept asking me and every visitor to bring him the “Longman” English dictionary to resume his education in prison.
I bought the dictionary and tried many times to deliver it to him but in vain; the Houthis would prevent the entrance of any publications or informative media materials to prison, including newspapers.
Now I hope that my brother and his colleagues’ cases won’t be neglected
As time passed, I started to lose hope. I sought ways to support my brother and give him a ray of hope through providing anything that could help him to continue his studies and achieve his dreams, even in prison. But even dreams were prohibited in Houthis prisons.
Now I hope that my brother and his colleagues’ cases won’t be neglected, and that good intentions be sought after and efforts to unconditionally release them be condensed.
How Tawfiq and his colleagues were arrested?
In 2015, the Saudi-UAE coalition started a raiding operation known as the “Decisive Storm” and has militarily intervened in Yemen to help the legitimate government take over again. At that time, there was no electricity or internet in most areas of the capital Sanaa.
Tawfiq was a professional designer then, for a local newspaper. One day, he and his colleagues decided to use a hotel room as a work headquarter, specifically in the “Qasr Al-Ahlam” hotel north of Sanaa; as electricity and internet were exclusively and continuously available in hotels only, thanks to their electricity generators, which was the only way that allowed my brother and his colleagues to resume their work.
On June 9, 2015, only after three days from my brother and his colleagues’ stay in the hotel, twenty armed masked men broke into the room and kidnapped them at pre-dawn.
Later, we learned that Houthis had arrested them claiming that they were “foreign agents” who aimed to tarnish the image of the popular committees (the local Militia formed by the Houthis).
Since my brother and his colleagues had forcibly disappeared, they were moved from one prison to another, with a new interrogation every time. After more than a year from my brother’s disappearance, our family managed to reach where he was detained with the help of our women relatives who used to search Sanaa prisons daily, inquiring about my brother’s place and fate. After a short while of incessant visits, my mother and my brother’s wife met him in “al-Habrah” prison where it became quite clear that Houthis treat journalists like they were the most dangerous criminals, restricting them from all advantages other prisoners have, including using cell phones inside the prison, receiving meals, or even Eid meals.
During the visits, my family communicated with Tawfiq through a separating metal window. When my father first visited him, Tawfiq tried to assure him that he was fine, but signs of torture indicated the opposite; as they were obvious on his face and neck. Even his heart was affected by the continuous torture, mistreatment and medical negligence.
Later, we learned that Houthis had arrested them claiming that they were “foreign agents” who aimed to tarnish the image of the popular committees.
Tawfiq and thousands of other innocent people who were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared pay a high price of blood, tears and freedom for an opinion they had expressed or journalistic work they had conducted, which is considered by Houthis to be treason. Now my brother and his colleagues are facing a death sentence only because they have practiced their profession during the war that erupted in the country.
Today, the Houthis are required to release my brother and all civil prisoners who have been detained in their prisons for years, away from their families and loved ones, in unimaginable conditions.
Honestly speaking, we can no longer manage more sorrow that aches our hearts every time we remember how our loved ones are physically and psychologically tortured, or when we gather to celebrate Eids without them present, scarily thinking about the imminent disaster that may take place if Coronavirus breaks out in prisons.