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Yemen: Model subjected to unfair trial and 'virginity test' threats by Houthis

Entisar al-Hammadi forced to sign documents blindfolded and racially abused, according to report
Hammadi, whose career path is seen as unorthodox by traditional Yemeni society, was kidnapped and detained (Screengrab/Facebook)

Entisar al-Hammadi, a high-profile 20-year-old Yemeni actress and model who went missing in the country's capital, Sanaa, in February, has been subjected to unfair trial and abuse under the Houthi authorities, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Authorities have also denied her lawyer access to court documents since he was appointed to handle her case in March, according to the rights group.

Hammadi appeared in hearings on 6 and 9 June, according to HRW, "on the apparent charges of committing an indecent act and drug possession", the group quoted her lawyer as saying.

"Sources told Human Rights Watch that Houthi authorities forced Hammadi to sign a document while blindfolded during interrogation and offered to release her if she would help them entrap their enemies with 'sex and drugs'," said the report, which said that she was also threatened with a "virginity test" in May.

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Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at HRW, called for the charges against her to be dropped.

“The Houthi authorities’ unfair trial against Entisar al-Hammadi, on top of the arbitrary arrest and abuse against her in detention, is a stark reminder of the abuse that women face at the hands of authorities throughout Yemen,” he said. 

“The Houthi authorities should ensure her rights to due process, including access to her charges and evidence against her, so she can challenge it, and immediately drop charges that are so broad and vague that they are arbitrary,” he added. 

According to Hammadi’s lawyer, Houthi forces stopped a car on 20 February that contained the model and three others. All were arrested.

Hammadi was blindfolded and taken to be investigated, where she was held for 10 days. 

Hammadi’s lawyer said that she was arrested for riding in a car with a man accused of drug dealing, and that photographs of her were treated as an act of indecency.

The general prosecutor's office has so far refused to give her lawyers a copy of the list of charges against her. 

The lawyer also said the other women detained alongside Hammadi were facing similar charges relating to "indecency", but had not publicised their cases due to fear of social stigma. 

Hammadi, who was born to a Yemeni father and Ethiopian mother, has also been abused with racist language by authorities, according to her lawyer. 

Unorthodox career path 

Al-Hammadi, who featured in several TV shows last year, says her childhood dream was to be either a model or a flight attendant.

"My ambition is to leave this country and become an international model," she said last year.

But her choice of career, which is uncommon in Yemen, has drawn ire.

"Some of the obstacles I face are that I live in a conservative society, and the customs and traditions," she told Manasati30 in October 2020.

'The Houthis consider working as an actress and model to be haram [forbidden], so it is normal they detain open-minded people'

- A friend of Entisar al-Hammadi's

"My family rejected this in the beginning, but I told them 'that is my dream and I will achieve it one day'."

Manasati30 helps run a Facebook page which it says provides a free space for Yemeni youths between 15 and 30 to exchange views regardless of their cultural, social and regional backgrounds.

Earlier this year, social media activists launched a campaign using the hashtag "freedom for Entisar al-Hammadi", drawing worldwide attention to her plight.

While some vocal campaigners have come out in support of Hammadi, many Yemenis see her work as unacceptable.

A friend of Hammadi's previously told MEE that she was kidnapped because of her way of life. 

"The Houthis consider working as an actress and model to be haram [forbidden], so it is normal they detain open-minded people," the friend said.

Reports of abuse

On 24 May, a group of human rights defenders and lawyers visited Hammadi in prison. A joint statement published by them described the threats she faced and called for her release. 

“She was arrested on the street and seized with nothing but her handbag and phone. She and her friends were interrogated while blindfolded… We demand her immediate release, based on the memorandum submitted by the public prosecutor,” it stated.

“We also share great concerns over the threats that the lawyer Khaled al-Kamal is exposed to, alongside his family, as a result of defending Entisar al-Hammadi,” it added.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.