At the early hours of September 1st, 2019, Arab Coalition air force targeted a Houthi secret prison used to detain dozens of abductees and forcibly hidden individuals who were used as human shields. Houthi media rumored that almost all the detainees were war prisoners when in fact they were civilians who had been abducted from their homes and workplaces.
Houthi armed group hunted down those who survived the airstrike and took them to other secret prisons despite being injured and in bad conditions. Many dead bodies were left beneath the rubble for days and others were held by Houthis who refused to hand the bodies in to families unless they are paid certain amounts of money or used as prisoner exchange.
Abductees Who Were Killed by Airstrikes After Years of Forced Disappearance.
Yusuf Al-Samawi is a victim from Utmah, Dhamar. He was abducted by Houthi armed group at the beginning of the year 2018 from a travel agency office in Dhamar. He had been married for only 3 months. Ibrahim Al-Jahdabi, a journalist and former abductee who had been detained in the same prison, remembers Yusuf crying like babies when he remembered his mother’s and wife’s fears and worries for him. Yusuf told Ibrahim that he was not worried about interrogations, but he did worry about his mother and wife who had been scheduled to visit him at Central Security Prison before he was transferred, hidden, and prevented from any mean of contact.
Al-Jahdabi remembers Yusuf’s hopes and wishes and that he looked forward to meeting his beloved wife who he was forced to leave. Yusuf always told his friends at prison that he would be released before any of them, that he would not forget about them, and that he would work and help to free them. Coalition air force and Houthi prisons, however, killed his simple wish of having a life.
The journalist, Mohammed Hafeed, who is a brother of the abductee Khaled Hafeed, stated to the association that his brother was abducted from his home and was not a war prisoner like Houthis rumored. He worked as a bus driver, was abducted from his home in Ibb, and locked up at Central Security Prison in Ibb. Mohammed was transferred to Dhamar where he had been first detained at Dhamar Central Security Prison then at Community College Prison. He was injured during the airstrike. His family had seen him in a hospital bed for brief moments before he disappeared. With the Houthi refusal of providing any information about Mohammed, his family’s worries and fears have multiplied.
Professor Fu’ad Al-Bana’a said that Yaser Ahmed Al-Ja’ashani, a teacher, was abducted by Houthi armed group three years ago from Ibb where he worked as a school headmaster. Huge sums of money were paid to Houthis for Yaser’s visits, bigger sums were asked for his release. Yet, he was killed by the airstrike at Community College Prison.
A Survivor: Most of the Detainees Were Abductees, Not War Prisoners
Abductees’ Mothers Association met an abductee who survived the incident and refused to state his name due to security reasons. The survivor said that around 157 of the detainees were abducted civilians and there were only 10 war prisoners. When he was asked about the visits of human rights organizations, he assured that the International Red Cross had visited them once which confirms that Arab Coalition had a prior knowledge of the prison.
The survivor stated that Houthi armed group had transferred most the victims in groups from different districts and towns three days before the airstrike. The six head wardens, who happen to be soldiers from Sa’ada, had disappeared moments before the bombing started. There were three consecutive airstrikes, during which he and ten other abductees managed to escape as the higher floors started collapsing. He remembers seeing ambulances rushing towards the prison ten minutes later as he was fleeing.
As opposed to the rumor deliberately spread by Houthi, many victims’ families assured in their reports to the association that their murdered relatives were abducted civilians not war prisoners as claimed by Houthi armed group. They also stated that Community College Prison was mainly used for enforced disappearance.
Community College Prison: Unknown Fate
Abductees who survived the incident and former abductees stated that Community College Prison was used for enforced disappearance, and medical negligence in a city where temperature can go as low as negative 10 degrees Celsius.
The former abductee, Ibrahim Al-Jahdabi, describes the first night at Community College Prison as the worst during his abduction. “I was thrown into a cell with terrible conditions at a freezing weather. I had no blankets and only a horribly used mattress. It was so cold that I thought the mattress I had was wet. When I asked another detainee about the source of water, he told me it was not wet, it was just that cold.” Ibrahim said. He adds “I begged the detainee for a sheet and I was given a worn-out sheet. It did not help warm my body and I could not sleep due to rheumatic pain”.
When asked about the interrogations at Community College Prison, Al-Jahdabi said that he was repeatedly interrogated although he was only transferred into that prison as a part of prisoners’ exchange deal which he only accepted to save his life. He had repeatedly refused the deal and demanded that he was referred to a judge or a court as he was a civilian who was arrested due to his opinions and writings. Yet, Houthis continuously pressured him to accept the deal and contact “his people”, according to Houthis, to provide the needed prisoners for the deal.
He said that the food they were provided with at prison consisted of hard and raw beans, badly cooked rice and stew, and a small piece of bread. That forced into helping each other and buy their own food and drinks using their own money, yet paying double for it.
Abductees’ Mothers Association in Sana’a and Taiz has organized many rallies condemning the international silence towards the brutal crime and demanding an urgent international investigation to bring the perpetrators, namely Coalition air force and Houthi armed group, to justice without any delay or postponement. Mothers called upon human rights organizations and activists to stand by the cause of the abductees in order to stop the crimes of abduction, forced disappearance, torture, and establishing secret detention centers.
Many activists and politicians held Houthi armed group responsible for the crimes of abduction and detention, and Arab Coalition along with the legitimate government responsible for targeting prisons as the incident was not the first of its kind. They confirmed that the human rights violations varying from bombing to torturing and forced disappearance were carried out as the international community and human rights organizations suspiciously turned a blind eye from all those violations.
Finally, similar incidents have taken place before like targeting Harran in Dhamar where Houthis detained dozens of abductees at a military base including the journalists Yusuf Al-Ayzari and Abduallah Qabel, targeting Alzaydiah prison and Political Security prison in Al-Hudaydah, and targeting Military Police prison in Sana’a. Mothers have been devastated by the news of bombing Community Collage Prison, and previously other detention centers, which detained mostly civilians from Taiz and Ibb who had been abducted from their homes and travel roads.