RSF backs call for independent investigation into Yemeni journalist’s detention in Aden

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) supports the call by the family of Ahmed Maher, a 25-year-old Yemeni journalist held by the Aden-based Southern Transitional Council since 6 August, for an independent commission to investigate the charges against him and to clear his name. A few days after his arrest, he appeared in a video confessing to terrorist crimes. Bruising was visible on his body.

“Ahmed Maher is a journalist who is paying the price for a regional conflict between rival factions,” RSF’s Middle East desk said. “The video of his bogus confession is a cruel joke and a travesty of justice. Ahmed Maher has no place being in prison. We support his family’s request for the creation of an independent commission of enquiry and we demand his immediate and unconditional release.”

The family of Maher, a freelance journalist who used to edit the Marsad Aden news website, is calling for the creation of an independent and impartial commission of enquiry to examine the legality of his arrest and his filmed confession. A few days after his arrest, he appeared in a video confessing his crimes under duress. He was shown, visibly tired and dispirited, numbly repeating the words dictated by a police officer behind the camera.

“His confessions were obtained under pressure and torture,” a member of his family told RSF. “The traces of violence were visible on him when we visited him in prison after the video was released. We are asking for a commission of enquiry that is as far removed as possible from the parties involved in the Yemeni conflict.

The family desperately wants this request to be accepted because of the gravity of the charges against Maher, charges that are motivated solely by political interests, his relatives say. 

In a statement published by the Yemen Media Freedom Observatory on 24 September, the family said they wanted “an independent and neutral commission of enquiry that can re-investigate the unlawful arrest of Ahmed and his brother at their home, their enforced disappearance, and then Ahmed’s appearance in a video with an investigator, reciting a confession under duress.

The Yemeni authorities already promised an investigation after Maher’s arrest. In response to the outcry triggered by the confession video, Rashad Al Alimi, the head of the Presidential Leadership Council, requested an official investigation on 5 September, but his request was ignored by the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which controls Aden. Instead, Maher was transferred from police custody to Aden’s Bir Ahmed prison and his family has not been allowed to visit him since then.

Despite Al Alimi’s attempts to impose his presidential authority in Yemen, the real decisions are taken elsewhere, outside Yemen, which has been embroiled for years in one of the Middle East’s most violent conflicts, with Saudi Arabia leading a war against the Houthi rebels in the north of the country, a regional expert told RSF.

Maher and his brother were kidnapped on 6 August in Aden by gunmen affiliated to the STC, which controls this southern province. They accused him of being implicated in “matters that compromise the region’s security and stability” – a charge denied by his family.

According to the information obtained by RSF, Maher used to be the spokesman of the “Transports Brigade” but he resigned from this position. An offshoot of the internationally recognised government, the “Transports Brigade” is regarded by the STC as a terrorist organisation. On his Facebook page, Maher nowadays describes himself as “politically independent.”

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