Geneva - A Houthi court sentencing of 29 Yemenis to either death or imprisonment following unfair trials is deeply concerning, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.

Urgent intervention, particularly by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, is required to reverse these sentences and prevent involved parties from implementing them in the future, as well as to ensure that the accused have full legal rights, including the right to a fair trial.

On 7 December, the Specialised Criminal Court of First Instance in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a convicted 16 people, seven of whom were already detained, on charges of communicating with and assisting the “Saudi-Emirati aggression countries”. They were sentenced to death by firing squad.

   The Houthi group’s issuance of mass death sentences against defendants based on ostensibly false charges reflects the high cost of ignoring accountability for those responsible for issuing or carrying out previous, similar sentences.   

Anas Jerjawi, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operating Officer

The court sentenced 13 others, all of whom were already detained, to prison terms ranging from 10 to 15 years on the same charges, as well as three years of security surveillance following the expiry of their original prison sentences. The convicts were also forced to sign an undertaking promising to pay 15 million Yemeni riyals (about €56,000 EUR) if any one of them committed “a crime of aiding the aggression countries or illegally communicating with a foreign country within two years after the expiry of the original prison sentence”.

The de facto Houthi authorities did not provide any clarification on the rationale behind the rulings at the time they were issued or afterwards; details were later revealed by the defendants’ lawyer on Saturday, 17 December.

Anas Jerjawi, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “The Houthi group’s issuance of mass death sentences against defendants based on ostensibly false charges reflects the high cost of ignoring accountability for those responsible for issuing or carrying out previous, similar sentences. It highlights, once again, the serious consequences of human rights violators enjoying impunity in Yemen.

“It is disheartening that the international community is still unable to put an end to these atrocities, which have been ongoing for more than eight years and will undoubtedly worsen unless they are met with decisive measures that deter perpetrators from repeating their crimes,” Jerjawi added.

De facto Houthi authorities have near-total control over judicial institutions in the areas they run, which has a direct impact on the independence of a judiciary and the outcome of cases concerning the group’s opponents. Houthi control exploits the judiciary system, turning it into a tool that the group uses to settle scores with dissidents and political opponents.

Since taking over Sana’a in 2014, the Houthi group has issued approximately 350 death sentences against politicians, opposition activists, journalists, and military personnel, at least 11 of which have been carried out. Authorities have ignored the application of human rights standards in almost every case, denying defendants the right to fair and impartial proceedings and, instead, convicting them on charges both arbitrary and politically motivated.

In July 2022, Euro-Med Monitor wrote to the UN envoy to Yemen, requesting intervention to save the life of journalist Tawfiq al-Mansoori after his health deteriorated. Al-Mansoori is one of four journalists who have been held for more than seven years by Houthi authorities, and who were sentenced to death on purportedly false charges after a trial marred by numerous legal irregularities.

The de facto Houthi authorities must reverse the harsh prison and death sentences handed down to the 29 Yemenis this month, respect Yemenis’ sacred right to life, and stop using the judiciary to exact revenge on political opponents and restrict freedoms.

All parties concerned with Yemen’s conflict must intervene immediately to prevent the execution of all death sentences, pressure the Houthi group to abandon its inhumane practices in this regard, and make every effort to prevent the parties to the conflict from engaging in any practises that may worsen the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis and eliminate any chance of a political solution.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reiterates its total rejection of the death penalty in all circumstances, as it deprives people of their most fundamental human right, which is the right to life. The death penalty cannot be reversed once carried out, nor can its consequences be mitigated, especially when it is used by authorities who routinely disregard human rights principles at all stages of detention, investigation, and litigation.