SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Yemen’s Houthi rebels said on Saturday they executed nine people for their alleged role in the murder of a senior Houthi official in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition more than three years ago.
Public executions by firing squad took place in the rebel capital of Sanaa, according to Iranian-backed Houthis who distributed photos apparently showing the executions.
The executions were carried out despite repeated calls from human rights groups and lawyers to stop. They said the trial in a rebel-controlled court where the nine were convicted and sentenced to death was flawed.
The nine were among more than 60 people accused by the Houthis of participating in the targeted killing of Saleh al-Samad in April 2018. Former President Donald Trump was also charged, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press. Senior Western, Israeli and Gulf officials were also charged.
The Houthis accused the nine of spying for the Saudi-led coalition.
Al-Samad, who held the post of president in the Houthi-backed political body, was killed in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in the coastal city of Hodeida.
All nine, including a 17-year-old, were arrested months after al-Samad’s assassination. They had been forcibly disappeared for months in undisclosed locations where they suffered inhumane treatment, according to Abdel-Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer representing one of the executed people.
Hundreds of people, mostly Houthis and their supporters, attended the executions, which were also broadcast on giant screens early Saturday morning in Tahrir Square in the capital of Sanaa. The executions and their display cause outrage across the country, including Sanaa, where people refrain from criticizing the rebels for fear of reprisals.
The relatives of those executed expressed their outrage at the punishment and its display. “What I would say. I can’t believe what happened. This is madness and a crime, “Abdel-Rahman Noah, brother of one of those executed, told The Associated Press.
Another relative said he did not expect the Houthis to go ahead with the executions. “We were shocked. … We thought they were just a threat,” he said through tears, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the rebels.
The rebels did not respond to requests for comment.
All nine were wearing sky blue prison garb with their hands tied behind their backs. The masked guards led them to an open area and forced them to lie on their stomach. Another officer with a rifle shot them dead in the back.
One of those executed looked scared as he waited his turn to be shot. An armed Houthi was seen holding him tightly to keep him from falling.
Several human rights groups, including the US-based Center for Justice, which tracks human rights abuses in Yemen, had called on the UN on Friday to intervene to stop the executions.
The groups said the trial of the nine “included flagrant violations of fair trial guarantees and deprived people of providing sufficient defenses.”
Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2014, when the Houthis swept through much of the north and seized Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year on the government’s side.
The stalled conflict in Yemen has killed more than 130,000 people and sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Magdy reported from aboard the Geo Barents in the Mediterranean Sea.