Yemen: Five journalists released as part of a prisoner exchange

On 15 October, the Houthi rebels in Yemeni capital city Sana'a released five journalists as part of a prisoner exchange with the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Yemeni Journalists' Syndicate (YJS) in welcoming the release of the journalists and in calling for the release of all other journalists who remain detained.

Prisoners who were detained by the Houthis decend a plane after being released. Credits: SALEH Al-OBEIDI / AFP

The five journalists, Hisham Ahmed Tarmoom, Hisham Abdulmalik Al-Yousefi, Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Shihab, Essam Amin Balgheeth and Hassan Abdullah Annab were among those released in a prisoner exchange between the Houthis rebels who lead the de facto government in Sana and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi. The deal was brokered by the UN and allowed for the release of over 1000 prisoners.

Even though the Specialised Criminal Court in Sana'a had ordered the release of the journalists on 11 April, the Houthis refused to release them. Instead, they offered to exchange them for other prisoners. At the trial on 11 April, four other journalists were sentenced to death on charges of treason and spying for foreign agents.

The five journalists were part of a group of ten media professionals who were detained in July 2015 at the Palace of Dreams Hotel in Sana where their organisations had set up newsrooms to have access to utilities and internet connection. The Houthis alleged their reporting was serving the coalition led by Saudi Arabia which intervened in Yemen in 2015, and accused the journalists of “collaborating with the enemy”, according to Amnesty International.

During the five years of imprisonment, the detained journalists were subject to physical and psychological mistreatment. The IFJ repeatedly called out the Houthis for breaking international conventions and norms on the treatment of prisoners.

According to the YSJ, at least 13 journalists, including the four journalists on death row, and one media professor remain detained in Yemen.

The YSJ welcomed the release of Tarmoom, Al-Yousefi, Al-Shihab, Balgheeth and Annab and thanked the UN for its efforts in negotiating the deal but also drew attention to the remaining detained journalists: “The Syndicate renews its request to the international community to continue its efforts to release the remaining kidnapped journalists.”

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We are pleased to hear that the journalists Hisham Tarmoom, Hisham Al-Yousefi, Haitham Al-Shihab, Essam Balgheeth and Hassan Abdullah Annab were released as part of the prisoner exchange negotiated by the UN. However, it is worrying to see that journalists continue to be victims of the conflict between the Houthis and the government of President Hadi. We continue to call for the release of all journalists that remain detained.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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