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Over 16,000 Yemenis 'abducted by Houthis' since 2015

More than 16,000 people have been abducted by Houthi rebels since the group seized control of the Yemeni capital in 2014, a new report suggests, with thousands still missing as the war surpasses its second year.

Civilians, activists, academics and politicians remain under Houthi arrest in undisclosed locations around the war-torn country, according to the newly-published Rights Radar report entitled Yemen: Victims Behind Bars.

“The amount of people abducted and detained by the Houthi group is estimated at 16,804 detainees since the rebels took over the capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014 until the end of March 2017,” the report states.

Despite losing some territory to pro-government militias backed by Saudi-led coalition forces, the rebels maintain a hold of multiple cities, mainly across Yemen’s western Red Sea coast and the capital.

Thousands of victims remain behind bars in more than 480 new Houthi-controlled prisons that have opened since their move to capture territories, including high-ranking government figures.

“The number of detainees who are still in Houthi prisons in Sanaa alone reached 4,414 by the end of 2016,” the reports adds, noting some of the senior prisoners included in the list are the country’s former defence minister, General Mahmoud al-Subaihi and the current President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s brother, General Nasser Mansour Hadi.

Thousands of victims remain behind bars in more than 480 new Houthi-controlled prisons that have opened since their move to capture territories, including high-ranking government figures

Figures suggest that 227 former government buildings, 27 medical clinics, 49 university buildings, 99 public and private schools, 25 sport clubs, 47 judicial buildings and 10 private citizen homes have been converted into prisons, where "torture and abuse" are said to take place. "The case for missing persons and detainees is a huge one in Yemen for the thousands of families that do not know where their relatives are," Rights Radar founder, Khalid al-Hammadi told The New Arab. "Those that are detained in Houthi prisons suffer from torture and abuse and are denied their basic rights. They have no legal representation and are held without charge."

More than 200 minors are also said to be detained by the Houthis as international human rights organisations continue to accuse the rebel group of recruiting child soldiers across the country.

Rights Radar gathers information using a network of internal reporters situated across 18 of Yemen's provinces, although The New Arab could not independently verify the data. "As a human rights advocacy group, working with prisoners is complicated. Although we are in touch with their relatives many fear speaking out in fear of reprisals."

The organisation called on the international community to put pressure on the Houthi group to stop its systematic detention of opponents, calling on the rebels to “release all the detainees in its detentions and stop the torture”. Meanwhile, it also called on security forces loyal to the government of President Hadi, including the Saudi-led Arab coalition force, to abide by international laws and respect humanitarian treaties.

The coalition, which intervened to reinstate Hadi’s government after the Houthi takeover, also faces accusations of war crimes after a series of bombardments hit civilian areas including busy markets, hospitals, schools, and residential areas.

Last Thursday, Save the Children and Watchlist called for Saudi Arabia to be placed on the UN's annual list of groups and countries responsible for grave violations against children for its involvement in the war in Yemen. In addition to the coalition’s targeting of some 160 medical facilities, it has also blocked vital supplies from entering the war-torn country, the report said. Save the Children said that the blocking of supplies at Yemen's fourth largest port at Hodeidah has prevented thousands of children from being treated for preventable illnesses like diarrhoea, measles, malaria, and malnutrition.

More than 10,000 people have been killed and three million have been displaced in the ongoing conflict, according to the UN.

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