A Yemen based human rights organisation Mwatana has recently released a short documentary exposing the way in which Houthis have detained and tortured civilians. It included harrowing accounts from the Al-Zaydi family who were detained by the Houthis in the Ibb governorate.
When the Houthi gunmen arrived at Mohammed Ali Al-Zaydi's house at the end of last year, his son Ameer was in the shower. He explained that he still had soap on his body when they were already inside and knocked on the bathroom door. When he asked who it was knocking, no one answered, so Ameer decided to open the door to find that he was greeted with gunmen who were pointing guns at his face and commanding he surrender.
The gunmen proceeded to search and vandalise the premises. They searched grain barrels and threw the grains on the ground and injured Ameer's brother, Khalil. When he told the gunmen he was injured, Khalil was taken away along with his father and two brothers. He thought they were heading to a hospital. Eventually, when they stopped, the gunmen told Mohammed to go home. For the three sons, this was the beginning of a very long and traumatic interrogation process that lasted 45 days.
Khalil said he was accused of being a criminal, but he was never convicted of a crime. At the security centre, interrogators began asking the brothers if they were affiliated to Daesh or which local resistance forces they support. They were even asked if they were affiliated with the Saudi-led coalition.
"Their methods are for torture, not for looking for a criminal or an interrogation. This is arbitrary. The interrogators do whatever they want," Khalil explained. Methods they've used on the brothers include electrocutions, beats using metal batons and refusing them treatment for their injuries.
The interrogation rooms are not far from the cells, so prisoners can hear each other's screams when they are being tortured. Khalil recalls seeing his younger brother Mujahid being taken into the interrogation room. Two to three hours later, Mujahid could be heard screaming for help for around 15 minutes while he was being tortured. Later, his jailors tried to force him to admit to crimes he did not commit. The screams didn't start again. Mujahid had died from the torture.
A study by Mwatana confirmed 20 cases of torture so far. Most were in Ibb. Collating such information is becoming increasingly difficult in Yemen especially in mountainous regions.
In an interview with MEMO, the Director of Mwatana Abdurrasheed Alfaqish stressed that there are concerns about the use of torture by the Houthis. Though women are less likely to be detained, he explained, there remains a threat of violence against them. Two Baha'i women are currently being detained and it is unclear what is happening to them. In the past, there have been reports of sexual harassment committed by Houthis.
Houthi torture tactics are a little studied side of the ongoing war in Yemen. Such actions perpetuate the already high civilian casualties, radicalise victims and their families and create a cycle of revenge. As Khalil said: "They create criminals. I swear they make a person a violent criminal."
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