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Human rights workers at risk in Yemen

June 20, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Radhya Al-Mutawakel is a human rights defender and the Yemeni co-founder and chairperson of Mwatana Organisation For Human Rights, an independent organisation working to defend and protect human rights in Yemen [Twitter]

Eighteen human rights groups and civil liberty organisations, including Amnesty International, have warned the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen about the arbitrary detention of their Yemeni colleagues. The warning came in a statement seen by MEMO yesterday.

Radhya Almutawakel and Abdulrasheed Alfaqih, two human rights defenders with the Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, were detained unlawfully on 18 June by authorities operating in the government-controlled Seiyun City Airport in the war-torn country.

“The authorities confiscated Almutawakel and Alfaqih’s telephones and other personal belongings, and held the advocates for approximately 12 hours,” said the joint statement. “The advocates were given no reasons for the detention, but were told by the detaining Yemeni government security forces that they were not permitted to travel and were being arrested at the behest of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led Coalition.”

The two human rights defenders were released yesterday following mounting pressure by human rights groups worldwide. However, they continue to face threats from the coalition. “After their release,” the statement explained, “they received further threats from officials that they could be detained again soon.”

Both Almutawakel and Alfaqih work to document rights violations in Yemen, one of the world’s most underreported conflicts. The actions of the Saudi-led coalition apparently breach the right to liberty, the right to be free from arbitrary detention (Article 9), the right to liberty of movement and to leave to any country (Article 12), and the right to freedom of expression (Article 19) as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The detention of Almutawakel and Alfaqih looks to be part of a broader pattern of harassment and repression of human rights worker in Yemen committed by all sides to the conflict.

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The joint statement pointed out that Alfaqih was also detained briefly by authorities loyal to Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi on 14 June. “In 2017,” it added, “the Yemeni embassy in Washington, DC wrote a letter to US Senators attacking the reputation of Mwatana. The Houthis have repeatedly beaten, threatened, harassed and detained representatives of Mwatana and other advocates.”

According to the rights groups, more than 10 journalists have been detained arbitrarily and unlawfully by the Houthis since early 2015. “Throughout the conflict, human rights defenders and journalists have been harassed, threatened, beaten, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared in both government and Houthi-controlled territory.”

The Yemen civil war erupted when the internationally recognised Hadi government requested a Saudi-led coalition to carry out air strikes to neutralise threats posed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.