Houthi Death Sentences: Executing journalists or targeting peace?

The ruling is a provocation to Yemenis, and a blatant challenge to the international community in light of calls to end the war and bring peace.

Houthi troops ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, Yemen February 19, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/KHALED ABDULLAH)
Houthi troops ride on the back of a police patrol truck after participating in a Houthi gathering in Sanaa, Yemen February 19, 2020
While Yemenis have looked to international movements for a comprehensive cease-fire and preparation for dialogue to end a civil war and suffering, we were surprised by the Houthis’ death sentence for four of 10 journalists held since June 2015 and being tried on trumped-up charges.
Illegal death sentences issued by the so-called Specialized Criminal Court refer to terrorism cases against journalists Abdelkhaleq Omran, Akram al-Walidi, Harith Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansuri. It was a mock trial lacking justice and integrity, according to the defense attorney.
The ruling is a provocation to Yemenis, and a blatant challenge to the international community in light of calls to end the war and bring peace.
The rulings reflect not only the Iran-backed militia’s systematic, heinous crimes against society, but the lack of freedom of opinion and expression, and the liquidation of opponents, including journalists, to hide its crimes. They also reflect persistent efforts to torpedo any de-escalation and ceasefire, as well as negotiations for a comprehensive political solution, by using suffering Yemenis as a bargaining chip. 
Since the September 21, 2014, coup d’état by the Houthi militia, journalists and media outlets have been subjected to the widest of crackdowns and abuse campaigns. Its control of territory has turned these areas into large prisons with a single media voice. This voice glorifies Houthi leaders and their claim to the divine right to rule, as well as myths and slogans imported from Iran that have been used to deceive people and mobilize them under the pretext of fighting America and Israel – while simply killing Yemenis.
I am not exaggerating if I say that Yemen’s media entered its worst era after the Houthi coup. The country had never witnessed such violations, all of which amount to war crimes against the press through the hijacking of media institutions and abolition of freedom of opinion and expression through a systematic wave of repression and abuse affecting journalists of all political affiliations.
Whoever opposes or criticizes Houthi leaders and their obscurant project imported from Iran is exposed to the danger of abduction, imprisonment, torture (causing permanent disability) and cold-blooded murder.
The death toll has reached 40 journalists. The dead include Mohammed Al-Absi, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and presenter Jamila Jameel, journalist Mohammed Al-Yamani and hundreds of detainees, abductees and those forcibly disappeared.
We all remember how the Houthi militia bombed the TV station after it invaded Sanaa, endangering the lives of more than 300 journalists and staff. After taking complete control of the capital, the Houthis closed 329 media outlets, including the bureaus of Arab and international channels, and blocked more than 165 websites.
The Houthis have used journalists as human shields, detaining them at military sites used to launch Iranian-made ballistic missiles. They have forced hundreds of journalists to leave their homes, villages and families to escape prosecution, and threatened the families of abductees with arrest if they talk about the conditions of their relatives’ detention and the forms of torture they suffer.
As for the 10 journalists put on trial, during the five years since their arrest the Houthi militia practiced all forms of abuse and torture, holding them in solitary confinement, forcibly disappearing them for months by denying them visitation, treatment and clothing, and making them live in inhumane conditions.
The death sentences handed down on the four journalists – which came to light thanks to efforts made by the United Nations to achieve a prisoner exchange – confirm the militia’s disavowal of its obligations. They also highlight its insistence on pursuing a political escalation alongside a military escalation – all while the internationally recognized government is keen for peace and busy making every effort to face the imminent outbreak of coronavirus.
Journalists continue to operate in Houthi-controlled areas, which, according to Reporters Without Borders, are among the most dangerous environments in the world. The organization has ranked the Houthis second only to Islamic State for violations of freedom of the press. The matter became even more dangerous after the militia leader incited against journalists in a televised address, describing them as more dangerous than military operations against his project.
Journalists outside areas controlled by the Houthis – and even outside Yemen – remain vulnerable to threats and reprisals, including the terrorizing of their families and looting of their homes to silence them and cover up the militia’s crimes.
I urge the international community, especially the United Nations and its special envoy to Yemen, Mr. Martin Griffiths, to take a clear and candid stand against this dangerous escalation, which comes despite a push for confidence-building measures. This escalation confirms that the Houthi militia does not believe in dialogue, does not understand the language of peace, and does not care about the suffering of Yemenis.
In addition, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, all organizations concerned with the protection of journalists, and all media professionals and journalists around the world are called upon to show solidarity with their Yemeni colleagues. They should condemn the violations against their colleagues as war crimes, bring those responsible to the International Criminal Court, and pressure the Houthi militia to immediately reverse the death sentences and release all detainees, especially journalists, and cease manipulating the judiciary to settle their political scores.
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