The Iran-allied Houthi rebels have escalated their disregard for international law by the handing down of a death sentence to a government-friendly journalist, Yemeni government officials and human rights groups warned.
A court in Houthi-controlled Sana’a sentenced Yahya Abdul- Raqeeb al-Jubaihi, a respected journalist and academic, to death after he was convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia, which is leading an Arab coalition in support of the internationally recognised Yemeni government at war with the Houthis.
Jubaihi, 61, a vocal critic of Houthis, was found guilty of “illegally establishing contact with a foreign state, which is Saudi Arabia, and providing its diplomats in Sana’a with reports that posed harm to Yemen’s army, political position and economy in return for 4,500 Saudi riyals [$1,200] from Riyadh since 2010,” the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency reported.
Jubaihi, who is reportedly in poor health, was arrested more than eight months ago, his family said.
The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) called the death sentence “heinous” and “unconstitutional.” YJS called on human rights organisations to help stop “the increasing violence being practised against the press and journalists in Yemen.”
The statement said at least 13 journalists had been arbitrarily arrested by the Houthis.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the death sentence appalling. It said this was the first death sentence given to a reporter.
“This Houthi-imposed death sentence sets a dangerous precedent for journalists in Yemen,” Alexandra El Khazen, head of RSF’s Middle East desk, said in a statement. “Issued at the end of an unfair trial, it constitutes a grave violation of international law. We urge Houthi leaders to free this journalist at once.”
Amnesty International labelled the sentence “shameful” and called for it to be quashed.
“We are also deeply worried about ten other journalists who have been detained arbitrarily by Houthi forces without charge or trial for nearly two years,” Samah Hadid, director of campaigns at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional office, said in a statement.
“They must be allowed regular access to legal representatives and allowed to contact their families. If they are not promptly charged with recognisably criminal offences and prosecuted in fair trials, they must be released without delay,” Hadid said.
Amnesty International said that through 2015 and into 2016, the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh “have arbitrarily arrested and detained critics and opponents as well as journalists, human rights defenders and members of the Baha’i community. Scores have been subjected to enforced disappearance.”
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik al-Mekhlafi called on the United Nations to intervene in Jubaihi’s sentencing.
“We call the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the human rights commissioner and the UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to move urgently to stop this crime,” Mekhlafi said on Twitter.
Beyond their crackdown on dissent, Houthis are accused of war crimes, including the use of child soldiers and the use of internationally banned weapons such as landmines.
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed ten incidents in which landmines had killed or wounded people in Sana’a, Marib, Aden or Taiz governorates.
“Houthi-Saleh forces have been flouting the landmine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians,” said Steve Goose, director of HRW’s Arms Division.
“Yemen prohibited anti-personnel mines nearly two decades ago and no authorities should tolerate their use.”
Houthi rebels took control of Sana’a in September 2014 and then seized most of the country, leading the internationally recognised government to flee to Riyadh. A Saudi-led Arab coalition, supported by the United States and Britain, began an air campaign against the rebels in March 2015. Arab coalition ground troops later entered the fight. The war has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.