Hidden cellars of torture in Sanaa … a detainee narrates “incredible atrocities”


Source: Dubai – Arabic.net

A network of secret prisons and cellars of torture affiliated with the Houthi militia is located in the Taiz neighborhood of Sanaa, camouflaged between schools and homes. One cannot imagine that it includes dozens of women who are subject to daily rape, beatings and torture by militia activists, as confirmed by Yemeni activists and former detainees in an investigation. Prolonged and detailed for the Associated Press.

Activist Samira Al-Houry, who had been detained for 3 months in the past by the militias before being released and fled to Egypt, after the militias forced her to admit in a video clip that she was “practicing prostitution”, a charge that leads to ostracism and even death in Yemen, her bitter experience inside Those cellars, confirming that they can still hear their screams yet.

Samira, 33, was surprised at how often she asked a family in Sanaa about the fate of her peers in social work. The answer always came, “She is traveling.”

Until one day at dawn, I discovered how travel to the basements of torment, beatings, and rape was.

In the investigation, she recounted how members of the Houthi militia took her to the basement of a former school, where she saw dirty cells crowded with detainees.

She also confirmed that the interrogators severely beat her, subjected to electric shocks, and persisted in her psychological torture, until they announced a date for her execution and canceled it at the last minute.

She pointed out that it was very clear that the women who dared to defect or even just work in the public sphere turned to the goals of a harsh and escalating campaign by the Houthis.

Abducted sons in Sanaa
Abducted sons in Sanaa

I refused to inform.

Nevertheless, Al-Houry, who managed to survive after three months in the detention center, said: “Many have gone through worse conditions than mine.”

In addition, she explained that when she refused a request from a Houthi official to tell the other activists, she was kidnapped in July 2019 by a group of masked men armed with a Kalashnikov, “as if I were Osama bin Laden.”

She was detained inside Dar Al-Hilal, an abandoned school on Taiz Street. There were about 120 women with them, including Bardis al-Sayighi, a prominent poet who was giving poems about the Houthis’ repression.

Al-Houry also said that the detainees included “teachers, human rights activists and adolescents”. She added that the investigators threw her head in a table so badly that she needed surgery in one of her eyes to be able to see normally with her after she was released months later.

A former detainee in Sanaa
A former detainee in Sanaa

Arrest and rape

On the arrests of women in the Houthi-controlled areas, Rasha Jarhum, the Foundation for the Peace Path Initiative, which calls for the inclusion of women in talks between the Houthis and the legitimate Yemeni government, said: “This is the darkest era for Yemeni women. “It has been a disgrace that a woman is arrested by the traffic police.”

It is estimated that between 250 and 300 women are currently detained within the Sanaa governorate alone, according to several human rights organizations. And the “Yemeni Organization for Combating Human Trafficking” explained that there is a possibility that these estimates are less than the actual number.

It is noticed that there is more difficulty in estimating the numbers of detainees in other governorates and provinces subject to the Houthis

Elements of the Houthi militia in Sanaa (archive - AFP)
Elements of the Houthi militia in Sanaa (archive – AFP)

In this context, Noura Al-Jouri, chairwoman of the Women for Peace Coalition in Yemen, estimated that more than 100 women are being held inside the Dhamar governorate, south of the capital, which is a major transit point from government-controlled areas to the Houthi-controlled area.

Al-Jouri, who runs an informal support group in Cairo that deals with women who have been released from the Houthi prisons, documented 33 cases of rape and 8 cases of women who were exhausted by torture.

“Take turns raping her.”

The Associated Press met with six former detainees who managed to flee to Cairo before the Corona epidemic caused flights to be suspended and borders closed. They provided accounts supported by a report issued shortly before a panel of United Nations experts, which stated that sexual abuse of women detainees may amount to war crimes.

One of the women, a former history teacher who refused to reveal her name to protect her family in Yemen, said that she was arrested in the midst of a massive campaign against the demonstrations in December 2017. She was taken somewhere on the outskirts of Sanaa, not knowing exactly where. All she could hear at night was the dogs barking, and she did not even hear the call to prayer. “I was very far, as if I had fallen off the ground,” she said.

She also added that about 40 women were being held inside the villa, and that she had been tortured by interrogators, and on one occasion they removed the fingernails of the toe in her foot. More than once, three persuaded officers told her to pray and told her that they would cleanse her of sin. After that, they took turns raping her, while female guards restricted her and prevented her from moving.

Prisoners released in Sanaa (archive)
Prisoners released in Sanaa (archive)

The arrests are graduated

It is noteworthy that the first major arrests of women occurred in late 2017, after the Houthis killed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. During that period, militias detained dozens of women who went to public squares to demand the return of Saleh’s body.

Al-Jouri said that the range of arrests of women has expanded since then, explaining that “at first they were targeting opposition leaders, and then they targeted demonstrators, and now they target any woman who speaks against them.”

In addition, a woman stated that she was pulled from outside a taxi in which she was traveling inside a place where he was witnessing a demonstration and was beaten and detained. A peace activist working with a London-based humanitarian organization was also held for months in a police detention center in Sanaa for weeks.

A 48-year-old computer teacher described how 18 armed men stormed her home and beat everyone inside, hit her face with their shoes, and fired the sexual insults against her. The woman had no connection to the political work, but she posted a video on her Facebook page complaining that the workers’ salaries had not been paid for months. Shortly after that accident, she and her children fled to Egypt.

Abducted mothers in Yemen
Abducted mothers in Yemen

Houthi rapes female prisoners

Inside the school, the head of the Houthi Criminal Investigation Department, Sultan Zaben, undertook the investigations, al-Hawri and al-Sayighi said. On some nights, they added, Zappen escorted “pretty and little girls” out of school to rape them.

The United Nations Committee of Experts had referred to Zappen as running an undisclosed detention site in which women were raped and tortured.

Al-Jouri and a number of detainees previously reported that at least two villas on Taiz Street were used to detain women, along with other sites around the capital, including apartments confiscated by two exiled politicians, two hospitals, and five schools.

Legitimacy appeals to international crimes

It is noteworthy that the Yemeni Minister of Information, Muammar Al-Iryani, had appealed two days ago, in the light of these testimonies, to the International Criminal Court to investigate the crimes of special detention centers for women in the Houthi militia-controlled areas and to bring those involved in them to trial as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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