Yemen activist says Houthi rebels kidnapped, tortured him
AL MUKALLA, Yemen - A Yemeni activist who lobbied for the expulsion of the Houthis from the capital has accused the group of torturing him during a day-long incarceration in Sana'a a week ago.
Shadi Khosrof told Middle East Eye that the Houthis abducted him on 21 December, after he took part in a protest to demand the withdrawal of the rebels from a newly-established park.
Houthi rebels, who also call themselves “Ansar Allah” [The Supporters of God], have overrun most of the Yemeni capital since 21 September, when their fighters seized control of key government and military institutions.
Khosrof said that he and many other activists went to the “hijacked” park with their children to mount pressure on the Houthis to pull out of the park. “We went with children's toys and games,” Khosrof said.
At the park, Khosrof spoke to a group of protesters and declared that the park was “liberated” from the Houthis and handed it over to Sana’a’s mayor, an action that irritated the rebels.
“We stayed with our children in the park and urged government officials to come and take it from us,” he said.
During the early days of their assault on the capital, the Houthis stormed the headquarters of the 1st Military Zone, a former army unit commanded by Ali Mohsen al-Ahmer, a powerful army general who led six sporadic wars against the Houthis from 2004 to 2010, and also provided protection to ant-regime protests in 2011.
Following a major military shakeup in 2013, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi dismissed al-Ahmer from his post and turned his military camp into a national park.
But al-Ahmer resisted handing over the camp to the government, until the Houthis forced him to flee the country. Similarly, the Houthis vowed to turn the vast area into a park, but then had second thoughts after tightening their grip on the capital.
Subjected to physical abuse and insults
On Saturday morning, the Houthis told the protesters that they would ask their leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, to order armed men to withdraw from the park and would submit it to the local authorities, provided that the activists go home.
“It was a trick to convince us to leave the park,” Khosrof said, adding that the activists believed the Houthis had begun leaving the park, and thought that they would call them later for a meeting.
“When I left the park with my children, some armed men intercepted my car and began shooting near my legs to scare me,” Khosrof said.
He said he shouted at his friends and asked them to drive his children to his house. “The moment they snatched me up from my car, they began physically abusing me. They slapped me in the face, punched and whipped me with a long iron skewer.”
Ali al-Gohoum, a spokesperson for the group, told MEE from Sa’ada province that he had not heard of Khosrof’s ordeal, but he promised to investigate.
Meanwhile, Ali al-Bukhiti, another Houthi spokesperson, demanded that the people who mistreated Khosrof be prosecuted. “I condemn in strongest terms what Khosrof was subjected to and demand referring perpetrators to the court.” he said on his Facebook page on 22 December.
According to Khosrof, the Houthis who arrested him were not those who frequently appear in the media to defend the rebels.
“They took me to Dar al-Quran and began pouring insults on me," Khosrof said. "They accused of me of being a jihadist, undermining their uprising and distorting their movement’s image. During their investigation I heard people screaming from the neighbouring rooms.”
'I am not scared'
Civil rights movements working against the presence of the armed Houthis in the capital have swelled in recent weeks. Persistent protesters forced the Houthis’ militiamen to pull out of Sana’a University on 10 December.
Khosrof said that the Houthis were annoyed by his “civilian” opposition to their movement, and decided to hide him in an unknown detention centre in the capital.
After questioning him, Khosrof said, “They covered my eyes and threw me in a room and told relatives and friends that they knew nothing about my whereabouts.”
Khosrof’s father, a retired army colonel, used his connections with tribal leaders and government officials to pressure for the release of his son. Khosrof’s detention was widely covered in the local press, with some publications running his father’s appeal to free his son.
The Houthis released Khosrof on 20 December. “They took me in a car and removed the blindfold and left me on the street," he said.
Inspired by their success in dislodging the Houthis from Sana’a University, activists, including Khosrof, held a press conference on 22 December to announce the birth of Rafadh (rejection), a group opposing the deployment of armed Houthis in the capital.
“I am not scared. We are aware of the stakes. But we will continue,” Khosrof said.