Yemen’s Houthis carry out journalists’ death sentences slowly by torturing them


For 45 days, journalist Tawfik al-Mansouri, detained in Sana'a, was tortured. He and two other journalists sentenced to death in 2020 by the Houthis were locked up in solitary confinement and abused for several weeks. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces the torture and alerts the United Nations Special Representative for Yemen that the hostage journalists’ lives are in danger.

Three of the four journalists sentenced to death by Houthi rebels in 2020 were tortured in custody for at least 45 days. They include Tawfik al-Mansouri. Since August, the prison authorities have often removed him from the cell he shares with other detainees in order to subject him to torture and brutal beatings and then place him in a solitary confinement cell for long spells.

RSF has learned that Al-Mansouri has sustained a skull fracture that is not receiving proper medical treatment. The injury comes on top of his problems with diabetes, rheumatism and colon pain. His brother, Abdallah al-Mansouri, says he developed all of these ailments during the seven and a half years of detention and mistreatment since his arrest in June 2015. The Houthis have refused to permit any medical visits despite his family’s pleas.

“The Houthis are carrying out their death sentence slowly by torturing these journalists,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We call on the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to do everything possible to secure their immediate release, and we call on the Houthis to follow through on their own proposal to allow UN representatives to visit to these hostages and to urgently allow a medical team to come and examine them.”

Abdallah al-Mansouri told RSF that his last contact with his brother was a short phone call in June.

“We ask the UN envoy and the United Nations to investigate this crime and to punish those responsible,” he said. “We must protect Tawfik and his colleagues from any future attacks. They risk dying in prison.”

Two of the three other journalists under sentence of death, Abdul Khaleq Amran and Hareth Humaid, have also been beaten for unknown reasons and placed in isolation cells. These are underground cells in Sanaa’s main prison – the jail where they have been held since 2020 – that are small, windowless and without access to sanitary facilities. They are not being given enough food, and they are being denied medical care and monthly phone calls.

None of the four journalists – the fourth is called Akram al-Walidi – appeared in the Houthi “court” that held a pseudo-hearing on 4 December to examine their appeal against the death sentences.

“We asked the Houthi judge to investigate their absence, telling him that they had been tortured and that those holding them had failed to bring them before the court,” their lawyer, Abdel Majid Sabrah, told RSF. “The judge, who knew nothing of this, adjourned the hearing until 20 January.”

Political negotiations at the expense of the journalists

The four journalists are in effect being held hostage by the Houthis, who regard them as bargaining chips. In 2020, the Houthis proposed swapping them for political prisoners held by the internationally recognised government in the southern city of Aden. The jailing of the four journalists, their death sentences and the torture to which they are being subjected are all mechanisms used by the Houthis to apply pressure for the proposed prisoner exchange, their lawyer said.

A letter from Al-Mansouri's family accuses the head of the Houthi national committee for prisoner affairs, Abdul Qader al-Mortada, of overseeing the torture. The Aden government's information minister also identified Al-Mortada in a tweet as the person who transferred the journalists to solitary confinement and tortured them. Al-Mortada has denied the accusations and has proposed that a joint UN and Red Cross commission of inquiry should visit the prisons.

Kidnapped by the Houthis since 2015, the four journalists received their death sentences in 2020 from a court that was not recognised by the international community. This court arbitrarily convicted them of “creating and maintaining several sites and pages on the Internet and on social media” with the intention of “disseminating false and malicious information and rumours.”

A total of nine journalists are currently held hostage by the Houthis in northern Yemen. Several of them have completed their sentences but continue to be held pending a prisoner swap. Younis Abdulsalam, a journalist who had been held arbitrarily for 15 months and who had also been tortured and mistreated at length in prison, was finally released by the Houthis on 7 December.