The Central Bank in Sanaa (Getty Images)

War Prisoners in Houthis Prisons: When Killing is Free


Wed, 03-05-2023 03:20 PM, Aden

When prisoners warned Houthi official Al-Murtada about the death of some of them because of torture and diseases, he said that: "this normal, we have a mortuary that can hold 5000 people"

Raad Alrimi (South24)

Yemen's Houthis released dozens of war prisoners in return for hundreds of their members as part of a big exchange deal. However, those captives are not alone who left the Houthi prisons, but many secrets were released with them. A new gloomy chapter of the conflict that entered its 9th year is further stained by "grave human rights violations ".
Southern war prisoners told "South24 Center" details on the wide Houthi violations in their prisons and detention centers in Saada and Sanaa. They made testimonies about horrible acts of killing, premeditated physical torture and psychological abuse as well as the involvement of well-known Houthi officials in the violations.
In this report, “South24 Center” reveals, for the first time, the methods used by the Houthis in dealing with prisoners. It documents the names of war prisoners who were killed in the prisons of the Iran-backed militia. 
The captive leader

In his home in Aden, we met Colonel Ahmed Ali Omar Al-Damani, Chief of Staff of “Al-Amajed” Brigade affiliated with the Yemeni government in Abyan, east of Aden. He told “South24 Center” the story of being captured in an advanced front in Al-Bayda in 2021.
He said: “I was captured on September 16th, 2021, in (Sargin) area in Al-Bayda in a Houthi ambush. I was shot in the right leg by a sniper. I was trapped along with 3 people. Soldiers tried to carry me and withdrew but we were captured. I told the Houthis that they should provide me medical treatment or kill me. I stayed several hours on top of a military vehicle until we entered Al-Bayda".
He pointed out: "They called an ambulance that moved me to Dhamar governorate where I was treated by Dr. Kamal Al-Ansi who is a civil doctor with no links with the Houthis. I did my best to hide my identity and official position. The Houthis did not know who I am as I did not hold any identification or other documents". 
He continued saying: “I stayed 9 days in the Public Hospital in Dhamar. Then, they moved me to the Ghabra Prison in the governorate where I stayed for about one month. Fortunately, reports were circulated on governmental and Houthi media platforms claiming that I was killed. A disguised Houthi soldier told me that I would have been killed if my identity was revealed when they captured me".
Al-Damani added: “After that, they knew my real name and military position. They took me from Dhamar to Sanaa and later to the Central Prison in Sanaa. I was investigated by a Houthi called “Abu Hussein.” They told me old information about me since I was in Ketaf, Saada in 2011. I then realized that we had been monitored by spies".

According to Al-Damani, the Houthis investigated him 14 times, once every couple of months. "I was blindfolded most times. The investigation began from noon to midnight. I learned later that Abu Hussein is in fact Morad Mohammed Qaid Qasim Hanin. Who serves as Deputy of Abdulqadir Al-Murtada, the Head of the Houthi Prisoners Affairs Committee" he said. 
He stressed that the Houthis sometimes talked with him about general issues. He remembered that Abu Hussein told him: "Why did you kill Mr. Hussein (Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi) and why do Southerners fight us even though we supported their issue?". Al-Damani answered him: "How do you say that while you are the ones who had invaded South till the borders Al-Tawahi in Aden". He told him that Afash (Ali Abdullah Saleh) was the one who made this and not the Houthis.

Southerner on Saudi borders

Rami Mohammed Seif is a Southern officer with the military rank of major. He is also one of the Southern war prisoners who were released from the Houthi prisons. He told "South24 Center": "I was captured on July 28th, 2019, in Al-Thabit area in Saada along with members of the Yemeni Eagles Brigade affiliated with the Arab Coalition. We were betrayed by the tribes after the brigade controlled Houthi locations".
"We reached an agreement with the tribes to help us in fighting the Houthis, but this didn't happen, and they stabbed us from behind. The Houthis killed about 100 persons from the Eagles Brigade and captured other 69 including me," he explained.
He also said: "Although we handed over weapons and became unarmed after many of us were injured by snipers, they violently dealt with us as they shot bullets between our legs and threatened to kill us. They took us on top of a military vehicle for 90 min. When we arrived at Saada, they blindfolded and defamed us publicly and repeatedly chanted their slogan everywhere".
According to Rami, “The Houthis put some prisoners, including me, in the basement of a house in Saada. We were surprised that 9 persons, including me, were held in a 3×3m room. We were handcuffed, injured, and forced to keep wearing our military suits. They searched and looted all our belongings. For days, we kept wearing our blood-stained clothes.”
He added: “We were subjected to daily threats not to raise our voices because we were close to residential homes. They told us that people may kill us if they know our identity. Later, we knew that we were close to the home of a Houthi leader amid bombing and strikes by the Saudi air forces. We then realized that they took us as human shields.”
Days later, Rami and his colleagues were moved to Sanaa. According to him, the Houthis tried to film them and threatened them to talk positively about their conditions. He added: “They moved us from Saada to Sanaa without being blindfolded. They forced us to stop at the tomb of Saleh Al-Sammad in Al Sabeen Square where another team received us. We were taken to houses in Haddah Street, and then to the Central prison in Sanaa".

Colonel Al-Damani explained the grave violations against prisoners in the Central Prison of Sanaa. He told “South24 Center”: “I was an eyewitness about torture and horrible violations. I was not directly tortured because I am a commander as the Houthis knew that “Al-Amajed” Brigade holds important Houthi prisoners".
He said: “When a war prisoner had a leadership position, they detain him alone in a room. If he is a normal prisoner, he is detained with others inwards. The investigations were carried out upstairs. They blindfolded us and dragged us to a room. We heard the screams of some nearby war prisoners".
He said: “I knew details about the torture of journalist Tawfiq Al Mansouri. They brought him to us. We learned that his head was severely injured. I was an eyewitness to the torture of war prisoner Abdulbari Al-Sabri who suffered from renal failure complications and died at the door of Al-Quds Hospital after an attempt to treat him".
Al-Damani also spoke about prisoner “Al-Laith Al-Sabri” who died after suffering from leukemia. He added: “He suffered for more than 3 months inside his ward. After he fell unconscious, they took him to Kuwait Hospital, where he stayed for a night before he died according to what I was told by security men.”
Al-Damani said that "other war prisoners died after being tortured in Sanaa Central Prison including Salem Al-Shabwi, Abdulrahman Al-Hamiqani, and Adel Al-Jamaei". He added: "I forgot the names of some prisoners who died after being tortured and mistreated".
Regarding the nature of torture he experienced, Rami said: "They electrocuted us, beat us by their hands, hanged us by the legs and used what is known as 'Al-Daghata (a narrow underground room). They competed over torturing us and who can extract more information from war prisoners in any way".
He pointed out that: "one of the Houthi torture methods is through handcuffing and crucifying you on a pole while beating another prisoner beside you. This painful thing hurt us more than being tortured personally. I know a prisoner from Ibb governorate who was in the Nihm front on the outskirts of Sanaa. We prayed for 
God to help him as he lost his mind after much torture".
He added: "I saw with my own eyes how they smashed a brick on the head of that prisoner after he tried to disarm a Houthi guard. Investigators were called by their nicknames such as Abu Sejad and Abu Sakhr to hide their real identities. We knew later that Abu Sakhr is Abdulrahman Al-Faeq and that Abu Sejad is Bashir Al-Murtada".
Rami pointed to a kind of procrastination in treating severely ill prisoners. He added: "We reported about cases of war prisoners who suffered from nausea and fever. We pushed for treating them. Days later, we were told that some of these prisoners died. We did not know if this was true and whether they were moved to other wards or were killed".
Rami mentioned a situation about Abdulqader Al-Murtada. He said: "Once, I heard Al-Murtada during his visit to prisoners. Some of them told him that they sold everything and urged him to fear God in dealing with them. Al-Murtada told them that the Houthis will force them to sell the gold of their women and their families’ livestock until they make confessions". 
When prisoners warned Al-Murtada about the death of some of them as a result of torture and diseases, he said that: "this is normal. We have a mortuary that can hold 5000 people" according to Rami who added: "Some suffered strokes as a result of the repeated humiliation, including prisoner Ahmed Ayash, from Hodeidah".
Rami mentioned other war prisoners such as Rashid Al-Badawi whose head was severely hurt because of torture and prisoner Osama Zahzah whose hands were broken.
Dire conditions
The suffering of prisoners was not limited to torture but extended to the cruel conditions in detention. Commenting on that, Colonel Al-Damani said: "It is true that war prisoners suffer from dire conditions but the wards with more than 100 people are very neglected because they do not include captured leaders".
He added: "There was a lack of hygiene. They even seized bars of soap and shampoo delivered to us by the Red Cross as soon as these committees left the prison". He noted that "the Red Cross previously used to provide the prison's administration with detergent supplies, but the organization has backed off after knowing that these products were seized and not delivered to prisoners".
Al-Damani revealed the spread of epidemics and serious diseases in the Central Prison in Sanaa adding that “the most common diseases in the wards include tuberculosis and scabies. These epidemics spread inside the Central Prison. We even felt Houthis' concern about the spread of these diseases in Sanaa."

"They used to put tuberculosis patients in the wards of injured prisoners. I personally complained about this to the investigators. Dozens of prisoners were in one cell. Water was available only for half an hour every day. We tended to select some prisoners for each day. The food included lentils and white rice provided by the organizations," he added.
Al-Damani mentioned a doctor called "Mohammed Al-Sinbani" who works on behalf of the Houthis. He accused him of deliberately killing imprisoned patients. He used to deny that the prisoners were infected with diseases such as tuberculosis". Al-Damani pointed to harassment against war prisoners, such as playing Houthi anthems using loudspeakers, even during praying times.
Financial exploitation is another tragic aspect of war prisoner’s sufferings in the Houthi prisons according to the two captives interviewed by "South24 Center". The Houthis seized enormous amounts of any money transfers sent to prisoners by their families. Moreover, the prices of commodities were many times higher than prison’s groceries".
Extracting information 

According to Colonel Al-Damani, most physical and psychological operations focused on extracting information from prisoners. He added: "They initially ask you about your name, your job, your front, and other details including the type of weapons and your relationships with commanders of the other party".
He added: "They even ask about some leaders and what they like and whether they love money, women, or alcohol. They ask you about your family, education, acquaintances, your sons-in-law, and everything".
Violating international laws 

Wedad Al-Douh, Head of Frontline (A British human rights organization) stressed that "torture against war prisoners, violates international laws including the International Humanitarian Law regarding the inhuman and humiliating treatment of prisoners of war who have been deprived of their freedom due to internal armed conflicts in accordance with the Geneva Law, 1992, which protects prisoners from killing, torture, and cruel or humiliating treatment".
She told "South24 Center": "According to the 3rd Geneva Convention with all its articles, appendices and annexed protocols ratified by all the states participating in the war in Yemen, it is the responsibility of everyone to carry out these agreements in a binding manner".

She pointed out that" responsibility lies on the states or the armed groups involved in the crime of torturing war prisoners. This includes criminal accountability before national or international courts. Such parties may be subjected to international sanctions including international isolation as well as economic or political sanctions, in addition to paying compensation for the material and moral damages suffered by war prisoners because of torture".
As for the moves that must be followed in the case of Southern prisoners who were subjected to violations inside the Houthi prisons, Al-Douh said: "The STC's departments of Prisoners and Detainees and Rights and Freedom should follow the cases of Southern war prisoners released from Houthi prisons. They should focus on the following basic moves:
1- "Knowing the types of torture against Southern prisoners held by the Houthis. Accordingly, the necessary medical care should be determined as well as sticking to the specified treatment dates".
2- "Documenting their injuries, and complications during the period of detention, and torture as well as keeping all evidence, and relevant documents".
3- "Contacting International rights and humanitarian organizations to report and document their cases to avoid the loss of their rights".
4- "Paying attention to the psychological aspects of war prisoners, to help them bypass their torture, and detention experience, and return to their normal life".
5- "Finding the appropriate legal procedures to file a legal complaint against those who perpetuate torture and assault".
She added: "The released prisoners can contact the relevant judicial or administrative authorities or human rights organizations to convey their grievances".
Al-Douh pointed to the attention paid by "Frontline" towards this file as an independent non-governmental organization.
She added that "Frontline" works relentlessly to monitor human rights and document any relevant violations in Yemen, especially South. She said: "We work to deliver our reports and make necessary recommendations to reduce violations and sanction those responsible for them".
She concluded: "As for the cases of released Southern prisoners who were tortured in the Houthi prisons, we take this very seriously. We carefully follow the situation to document the accurate details about the cases during our scheduled visit to Aden in early May to meet the victims and talk with them".

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

• The two prisoners of war interviewed by "South24 Center" in this report refused to be photographed to show the traces of their torture. 
• "South24 Center" was not able to contact the "Red Cross" in Yemen to comment on this issue.
• South24 Center" was not able to contact the Houthis to comment on this issue.

YemenSanaaHouthisSouth YemenSouthern forcesTorturePrisonersCentral PrisonRed Cross