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Two Yemen YouTubers in detention, put on trial by Houthis

Courts run by the Houthis have been used to settle scores with opponents, especially media activists accusing the group of corruption.
A general view of the UNESCO-listed buildings in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen, July 25, 2022.

Two Yemenis who posted videos on YouTube in December criticizing the Houthis are to be put on trial in Houthi-run courts, the armed group announced on Wednesday. 

Mustafa al-Mumari and Ahmed Hajar were arrested in December after posting online a 10-minute video, accusing the Houthis of being thieves, naming specific officials and criticizing tax policies in the Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen.

They were charged with spreading false information, defamation and inciting violence in the video that they titled, "The Sanaa government loots the wealth of Yemen and Yemenis."

Ahmed Elaw and Hamoud al-Mesbahi were arrested after posting a video online, but were later freed on bail, according to their lawyer.

Why it matters: Human rights groups are condemning the Houthi policies against free speech, calling such actions harassment by using the legal system to settle scores with opponents, particularly following the increasing crackdown on YouTube and social media users.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties tweeted that the Houthis' human rights violations and abductions have escalated since 2014. It denounced the group’s establishment of courts for political gains, justifying targeting opponents with unfair sentences and confiscating their properties.

Since the Houthi takeover of Yemen in 2014, the areas controlled by the group have witnessed a bleak era for free speech and independent media. According to the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), 45 Yemeni journalists were killed between 2014 and 2022.

A YJS report said that until October 2022, “10 journalists remain in detention, 9 still detained by the Houthi group in Sanaa, including four sentenced to death. … All detained journalists live in bad and harsh conditions and are denied the right to visits, medical treatment and care.”

According to a Yemeni journalist who spoke to Al Jazeera, no journalists dare to talk about the Houthis, not in a way that compares to what the YouTube figures did; they all know that it would lead to severe or deadly consequences.

Know more: Areas controlled by the Houthis are witnessing increasing unrest as people’s daily struggles continue, amid a lack of food and withheld salaries, among other issues. Tensions are running high with people shedding light on the Houthis’ alleged corrupt practices.

United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg concluded on Monday a two-day visit to Yemen in a bid to reach an inclusive political settlement. He specified in a tweet the need for a shared vision among the local parties to ensure a successful agreement.

In the meantime, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said during a panel discussion at the annual forum in Davos, Switzerland, that a political settlement must be reached in Yemen in order to end the eight-year conflict.

“We had a truce that has expired. We need to find a way to get the Yemen truce reinstated, but then we need to work to transition it to a permanent cease-fire.”

Grundberg, who is also at Davos, thanked Saudi Arabia’s current military de-escalation and continued efforts to support a Yemeni-Yemeni political dialogue.

Yemen has been the battleground for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have backed opposing ends.

The Iran-backed Houthis had agreed in April 2022 to a truce with the internationally recognized government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition. It was the first time in years that the country had known relative calm. Although it seems to be prevalent, the Yemeni government has accused the Houthi militia of challenging the status quo by violating the truce.

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