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Yemen: Women captives recall ordeal in Houthi prisons

Human rights groups document 1,181 violations committed by Houthi rebels against women, including torture, rape, murder

Mohammed Alragawi  | 23.02.2021 - Update : 23.02.2021
Yemen: Women captives recall ordeal in Houthi prisons


Three Yemen-based human rights organizations have accused Iran-backed Houthi rebels of committing civil rights violations, amounting to war crimes.

A joint report issued by these groups has documented 1,181 violations against women that included murder, torture, enforced disappearance, sexual violence.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Wesam Basindowah, director of the 8th March Yemeni Union Women, one of the authors of the report said women and children have in particular suffered and have been first targets of war in Yemen.

“The report aims to shed light on the types of violations that Houthi militias committed against women in Yemen, during the period from 2017-2020.

The report has documented 274 cases of enforced disappearance listed 538 female detainees and 71 incidences of rape and four suicide cases.

Quoting testimonies of released prisoners like Nasma Muhammad, the report claimed that she was kidnapped on March 24, 2019, by Zainabiyat -- a women's military group established by Houthis. She is currently receiving treatment in Cairo.

“During interrogations, I was accused of providing coordinates to the Arab coalition and being an agent of America and Israel and working in a prostitution network. They tortured, beaten, electrocuted, and sexually harassed and raped me,” she told human rights groups.

Her parents had to pay a ransom of 3 million Yemeni riyals ($6,000) for her release.

Asma al-Omaisi, 22, a mother of two children, is on death row on charges of spying.

She was arrested in October 2016. After 15 months, a Houthi court in the capital Sanaa pronounced the death sentence. Her request to appeal despite international requests has been turned down.

Sharing her experience, Noora al-Jrowi, president of the Coalition of Women for Peace in Yemen told Anadolu Agency that she was among 77 women arrested by Houthis after they organize a protest on Dec. 6, 2017, in capital Sana'a against Houthis.

“The intervention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights succeeded in releasing us. At that moment, I decided to defend women's rights in Yemen. As protests continued, the arbitrary arrests also continued. The year 2018 was the worst year ever in the history of women's rights in Yemen,” she added.

Shocking facts about sufferings

“Violations of women's rights in Yemen, especially the rights of female prisoners in Houthi-controlled prisons is unspeakable. There are shocking facts about the sufferings of detainees,” said Basindowah.

Quoting the report, she said Houthi prisons are like graves for women.

After the killing of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president on Dec. 2, 2017, Houthi violations against women have become more systematic, said the report.

Women have been paying the price of the six-year war in Yemen. Reports suggest that there are 293 female detainees under the age of 18, in addition to dozens of mothers in Houthi prisons.

A panel of experts in its report to the UN Security Council president in January 2020 has also confirmed violations committed by Zainabiyat.

Basindowah also noted that Zinabiyat was carrying out illegal tasks like raiding houses and kidnapping.

“These women militias are accused of brutal acts against women such as arbitrary arrest, looting, sexual assault, beating, torture, and facilitating rape in secret detention centers,” she said.

The report also noted that till now 321 female detainees have been released.

Stigma doesn’t allow women to speak

In a conservative society like Yemen, al-Jrowi believes that “society is the biggest obstacle in exposing Houthi crimes against women because announcing these crimes is considered as a bigger crime”.

To add salt to the injury and further alienate detained women from their families and society, they are accused of working with prostitution networks, so they remain in detention for long periods up to 2-3 years.

“Some women were killed in their homes while opposing arrests,” she added.

Besides 8th March Yemeni Union Women’, other groups who have compiled the report included the Coalition of Women for Peace in Yemen, the Anti-Human Trafficking Organization, and the Yemeni Coalition for Independent Women.

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