Call for release of young Yemeni journalist held by Houthis in Sanaa

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Younis Abdel Salam, a journalist who disappeared in August 2021 in Sanaa, in the northern part of Yemen that is controlled by Houthi rebels. The Houthi intelligence services now acknowledge holding him.

“Younis Abdel Salam is a remarkable and courageous Yemeni journalist who should not be in prison,” said Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “His arbitrary detention for more than a year has impacted his mental health and well-being. He needs urgent medical attention and, most importantly, he needs to be freed. We urgently call on the Houthis to release him.”

Salam’s brother, Sultan, who has been able to visit him in prison, reports that the 28-year-old journalist’s mental health had declined dramatically in the 14 months he has been held. He has repeatedly been denied medical visits although the state mental health hospital in Sanaa issued a certificate stating that he needs regular treatment and medical supervision. Sultan says he also seems to have lost nearly half of his weight.

In Facebook posts prior to arrest on 8 August 2021, Salam often quoted Nietzsche, Voltaire and Beckett on such topics as religion or in relation to his criticism of Houthi policies in Sanaa. During the first few days after his arrest, he was beaten severely, punched and kicked, as well as being harassed, humiliated and isolated in a tiny cell. He was then transferred to the prison run by the Houthi intelligence services, where he is being held without trial on a charge of communicating with “foreign forces.”

Denied reading material

“The last time I saw Younis he was mentally devastated,” his brother told RSF. “His request for reading material had been refused. We negotiated with prison officials and they eventually consented to our bringing him non-political books, but when we arrived with literary books, they changed their minds. Younis was completely distraught. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

Sultan regards the decision to deprive him of reading material not only as an arbitrary measure but also as a sign that his detention will be extended.

“In prison, Younis spends his time reading religious books and watching their TV channels,” Sultan said. “That’s all he’s allowed to do. His continued detention is due to his refusal to submit to certain beliefs and thoughts. He is a free-thinking and educated writer. The Houthis don’t like that.”

Unkept promises

After Salam’s arrest, the Houthi authorities led his family to believe that he could be released but their half-promises never materialised. His lawyer, Samah Sbeih, who has not been allowed to visit him, submitted a request for his release in January 2022 that cited, “arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and endangering the life of a person who is mentally ill.”

“There is no legal justification for Younis' imprisonment,” she said. “His only fault is having an opinion. Just like other Yemeni journalists who have been detained or convicted because of their opinions.”

In 2015, the Houthis sentenced four journalists to death: Abdul Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Humaid and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri.

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