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Yemen: Houthi court sentences 30 to death for spying for Saudi-led coalition

Amnesty International said the verdicts targeted mainly individuals politically opposed to the Houthi government

People stand amidst the ruins of a building destroyed during Saudi-led coalition air strikes, in the province of Amran, north of capital Sanaa, on 6 July 2019 (AFP)

A Yemeni court run by Houthi rebels sentenced 30 people to death on charges of espionage for Saudi Arabia and its allies in the international coalition fighting in Yemen, a judicial source has said.

The source, cited by AFP news agency, said that 30 men, mainly academics, trade unionists and preachers, were handed death sentences on Tuesday and six others were acquitted by the criminal court in the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sanaa.

The defendants have been detained for a year, the source added.

He said the men were found guilty of providing the coalition with information on military targets.

A Saudi-led coalition has been engaged in a military campaign in Yemen since 2015, after the Houthis overran Sanaa and ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Riyadh.

Efforts to end the fighting have failed so far, with neither side coming to a long-term agreement.

A 'mockery of justice'

Amnesty International dismissed Tuesday's trial as a “flawed legal process” and “a mockery of justice” that targeted mainly individuals opposed to the Houthi government.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East director of research, said the Houthi-led criminal court has systematically targeted critics and opponents since the rebels assumed control of Sanaa’s justice system in 2015.

“Today thirty individuals, and all of their loved ones, are bracing for what is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and handed down following such flagrantly unfair trials,” Maalouf said in a statement.

“We call on the Houthi de facto authorities to quash these unjust convictions and brutal sentences and release the 30 men immediately.”

Courts run by the Houthis in Yemen have issued several death sentences against Yemeni citizens convicted of spying for the coalition, but executions have yet to be carried out.

In May last year, two men were sentenced by the same court for "providing information to a foreign state and co-operating with aggressor state Saudi Arabia between 2015 and 2016".

In January, the court condemned to death 22-year-old mother Asmaa al-Omeissy and two men on charges of aiding the UAE.

In 2017, the same court sentenced President Hadi and six senior officials in his administration to death on charges of “high treason”.

Hamid bin Haydara, a member of Yemen’s Bahai religious community, was also sentenced to death by the Sanaa court in January 2018 on charges of apostasy.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on the Houthi court to overturn the death sentence and release Haydara, “a religious prisoner of conscience”.

The Houthis have stepped up their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, killing at least one person and wounding dozens in attacks targeting mainly civilian airports.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge both the Houthis and Tehran deny.

The United Arab Emirates, a key partner in the coalition, announced on Monday it was scaling down its involvement in the war in a shift from a "military-first strategy" to a "peace-first strategy".

The war in Yemen has left tens of thousands dead and millions on the brink of famine, and hundreds of thousands of suspected cholera cases.