Houthi crackdown on Yemeni activists, journalists 'same as Saleh's'

Houthi crackdown on Yemeni activists, journalists 'same as Saleh's'
Activists and journalists say that Houthi attacks against protests on Sunday and Monday are a page out of the playbook of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
4 min read
26 January, 2015
Houthis have attacked and detained anti-Houthi protesters [AFP]

Adel Shamsan was only able to escape the men who detained him by pushing one hard, opening his car door, fleeing through several houses, before finally finding a motorbike taxi to weave him through Sanaa's streets and lose the armed men - most likely Houthi militiamen - who were on his tail.

He managed to get to a hospital where his injuries from being beaten were checked out - but the other men who were detained with him on Monday morning while protesting against the armed Houthi takeover of the Yemeni state were not so lucky. They remain in detention.

Thousands of Yemenis had taken to the streets of Sanaa on Saturday in the biggest anti-Houthi protest the city has seen since the armed group's takeover of the capital in September. Since then, the armed group appears determined not to let any other protests take place, and has cracked down on protests on both Sunday and Monday.

"They started hitting us and stabbed one person... they called us American agents," Shamsan, a citizen journalist, told a fellow Yemeni activist, Sarah Gamal, in an interview.

"Then they started saying that they wanted my camera... I had hid it with my wife, and they went to threaten her... they said 'if you don't give [us] the camera, we'll take him to Saada [the heartland of the Houthi movement]."

     They started hitting us and stabbed one person... they called us American agents.
- Adel Shamsan

Speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed, Shamsan said that the events were a carbon-copy of 2011, when months of demonstrations eventually deposed long-term autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"It's the same as Saleh, the same places, the same thugs," Shamsan said.

Abdulrasheed Alfaqih, the CEO of Yemeni human rights organisation Mwatana, corroborated Shamsan's version of events.

"Houthis came with armed men and protesters to block the entrances and to take Change Square," Alfaqih said, referring to the symbolic centrepoint of the 2011 protest movement.

"The youth went elsewhere and were followed by the Houthis."

Alfaqih confirmed that a man had been stabbed with a traditional Yemeni jambiya dagger, and that journalists had been beaten and had their cameras taken.

At least ten protesters were seized by Houthi militiamen on Monday, and seven remain detained at the time of publication. On Sunday, 34 were detained, but all were eventually released after fellow demonstrators went to the police stations where they were being held to demand their release.

"They [the Houthis] said that they kidnapped them to hear what they wanted - this is not normal," said Alfaqih.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed
has made several attempts to contact Houthi spokesmen for a response to the allegations made against them, but has received no response.

Through their media outlets, Houthis and their supporters have claimed that protesters have been chanting sectarian slogans and were violent. Since the
resignation of President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government last Thursday, the Houthis have faced increasing protests against their armed derailing of Yemen's political transition.

The Houthis' account was rejected protester Baraa Shiban.

"There was nothing sectarian," he said. "They were just chanting 'long live the Yemeni people', the response was 'long live the Sayyid'," said Shiban, referring to the honorific title used for Houthi leader Abdelmalek al-Houthi.

Mohammed al-Qadhi, a respected Yemeni correspondent for Sky News Arabia, was also detained by Houthi militiamen after they discovered a camera in his car.

     They are taking the same path as Saleh, the same tactics.
- Mohammed al-Qadhi

"We hid the cameras in the car, they searched and found it," Qadhi said. "When they took us from the car they attacked us and hit other reporters."

After being detained for two hours, Qadhi and his camera operator were released. Only the day before, Qadhi had a militaman hold an AK-47 to him as he tried to report in front of the Yemeni parliament building.

"They are so hostile to journalists," he said.

On Sunday, Marwan Damaj of the Yemeni Journalists' Union said that three journalists working for local and international media had been detained by the Houthis for covering a protest, and a female freelance journalist had been beaten.

Qadhi said the Houthis were using the same methods Saleh made his own during his rule. Despite the Houthis fighting six wars against Saleh between 2004 and 2010, the group is now allied with the country's former leader.

"They are taking the same path as Saleh, the same tactics," Qadhi said. "Saleh used to bring his thugs to attack protesters, they are doing the same thing."