Network of secret prisons – the reality in Houthi controlled areas in Yemen

A member of the Houthi delegation participating in the negotiations in Sweden departs from Sanaa airport, Yemen December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

In the shadow of the first peace talks on the Yemen conflict going on in Sweden, the Associated Press released a detailed investigation on a network of secret prisons in the Houthi controlled areas run by the rebel group revealing the reality for civilians held in them.

Second day of the first official peace talks on the conflict in Yemen is almost in the history. The talks have been months in the making, with the UN sending its special envoy to Sanaa to personally escort the rebel delegation to Sweden. Previous attempts have been suspended due to the absence of a delegation from the Houthi side which is this time presented. They have started on Thursday with a little delay due to travel complications for the rebel group’s representatives and are expected to last one week. Until this moment there haven’t been any face to face meetings between the warring sides but the special envoy of the United Nations for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is playing the role of a mediator between them.

So far what has been revealed in the media is that there will be an agreement on prisoners exchange from both sides. The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 5,000 would be freed. Meanwhile the Associated Press released a detailed investigation with proofs of a network of secret prisons in Houthi controlled territories in Yemen used by the rebels to detain their “enemies”, torture and sometimes execute them. The Abductees’ Mothers Union, an association of female relatives of detainees jailed by the Houthis, has documented more than 18,000 detainees in the last four years, including 1,000 cases of torture and at least 126 deaths, according to Sabah Mohammed, a representative of the group in the city of Marib. While at the end of this week of negotiations the coalition side would release captured Houthi fighters, the rebels would largely free civilians who were imprisoned in brutal sweeps aimed at suppressing opposition and obtaining captives who could be traded for ransom or exchanged for Houthi fighters held by the other side.

The AP obtained a copy of a video showing scenes of overcrowded network of secret prisons and prisoners with bruises, along with testimony from senior Houthi figures. The media reported this story with a grant from the Politzer Center on Crisis Reporting:


A year after he disappeared, Moneah Al-Sharkhi was found dumped in the stream. The 35 year-old Yemeni pharmacist had acid burns over 25 percent of his body. Burns so severe that his jacket was stuck to his melted skin. He has no memory of this ordeal, but others remember torture all too well.

At the Houthi-run prison in Saana, Hanas Al Sarari says his captors hung him from the ceiling by handcuffs for 23 hours a day. Released after 4 months, the 26 years-old activist is now paralyzed.

“They also electrocuted me but it was bearable. Even death is better than hanging. The torture from hanging is continuous.”

Tens of thousands have died since the Shiai-Houthis took control of much of the country in 2013. Displacing the Saudi-backed central government and plunging the country into a civil war that has pushed millions to the brink of starvation. Thousands more have been abused in what one group says is a network of secret prisons belonging to Houthi militiamen. The group, the Abductees Mothers Union, claims to have documented at least 126 torture deaths. Their suffering underscores a significance of a prisoner-release deal reached this week during UN-sponsored peace-talks. While the Coalition side will release captured Houthi fighters, most of those will be freed by the rebels are civilians, arrested in brutal sweeps, saying they are suppressing any opposition. The Houthis receive support from Iran, while the Suni-led government in exile is led by a coalition with support from the US.  The Associated Press spoke with about 20 people who said they survived or witnessed torture within Houthi detention sites. Houthi-militia-grabbed Journalist Mohammed Al Washi in October 2015

This is my hand. It was fractured. And these are bruises. And these lines are marks from beatings with electrical wires.

There have been atrocities by both sides in this struggle. The AP has exposed torture in a network of secret prisons run by the United Arab Emirates – a coalition member, and their Yemeni allies, and has documented deaths of civilians in Coalition airstrikes. Houthi leaders deny their engage in torture. But in the summer of 2016, a committee led by Houthi-leader`s brother was set up to examine reports of torture and indefinite detentions. The Group sent the leadership this video, a copy of which the AP obtained.

“We visited the governorates. And we saw what made our eyes flow with tears of blood. If I had to describe Ibb (a city in Yemen) prison, I would say that the prisoners were so thin that you could fit each of them on a tile”. The committee said it freed more than 13,000 people in its first three months. Eventually hardline security members shut them down.”

Source Video: YouTube, Associated Press