Detained Yemeni YouTubers handed prison sentences by Houthi court

Detained Yemeni YouTubers handed prison sentences by Houthi court
Houthi rebels handed prison sentences to three Yemeni YouTubers of up to three years.
2 min read
A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-allied Houthis overthrew the government from the capital Sanaa in 2014 [source: Getty]

Three Yemeni YouTubers captured by Houthi rebels received prison sentences of up to three years on Tuesday for publishing videos alleging abuses by the Iran-backed fighters, according to their lawyer.

Mustafa al-Mawmari, Ahmad Hajar and Ahmad Elaw were detained in Sanaa, in December. They were charged with "spreading misinformation", "harming public interest", and "inciting the masses to commit acts of chaos", according to court documents seen by AFP.

The Houthis, who follow an austere form of Shia Islam and originate from Yemen's northern mountains, seized the capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene the following year to prop up the internationally recognised government.

A Sanaa criminal court handed down the prison sentences and ordered them to delete their YouTube channels, their lawyer Abdul Majid Sabra told AFP.

Elaw was sentenced to three years. Mawmari received an 18-month term and Hajar 12 months, Sabra said.

Together, the three men had more than three million followers.

They were each ordered to pay a fine of nearly $20,000, the lawyer added.

In December, Hajar, 43, was the first of the group detained after he accused the Houthis of "robbing the Yemeni people", in a video watched around half a million times.

Yemen's war has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, both directly and indirectly, and pushed the nation to the brink of famine.

The Houthis have increasingly limited individual liberties, including free speech and the movement of women in areas they control.

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Court documents had said the YouTubers' influence was seen as "serving the aggression... against Yemen" by the Saudi-led coalition.

The sentences came a day after Houthi-controlled media released videos of the men renouncing their earlier criticisms of the rebels.

The latest footage sparked an uproar among some Yemenis, who claimed the statements had been coerced.

The sentences also followed Monday's announcement of a prisoner exchange agreed between the Houthis and Yemen's government, after talks overseen by the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross in Switzerland.

The deal covers 887 conflict-related detainees, including journalists captured by the militants, according to Yemeni government officials.

A UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect in Yemen last April brought a sharp reduction in hostilities. The truce expired in October, though fighting largely remains on hold.