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#FreeHisham: Calls to free 'silenced' Yemeni political commentator increase

More than 17 days have passed since a popular Yemeni political analyst was abducted by Houthi rebels outside his home, and little is known on his fate.

Hisham al-Omeisy, a father of two, has gained widespread popularity over the years for his unbiased reporting and commentating on the war-torn country.

The 38-year-old was a vocal critic of all parties involved in the Yemen's civil war, which has left over 10,000 dead. It has given him credibility across international media, where he has published numerous articles and provided unmatched analysis and contributions on a somewhat messy conflict.

But on 11 August, Omeisy's popular Twitter account - which boasts more than 25,000 followers - fell silent after one last harrowing tweet.

"Armed goons backed by corrupt officials are forcefully taking real estate in Sanaa. They just showed up at my door," Omeisy wrote.

Just hours later, the daunting reality was confirmed in a separate tweet posted on an account belonging to Omeisy's close friend.

Since then, the political commentator has had no access to lawyers or his family, and little is known on his fate and well-being.

But social media users including prominent journalists and activists have taken to Twitter - where Omeisy built a strong repertoire - to rally for his release around a hashtag dubbed #FreeHisham.

Human rights groups, including both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have also called for his urgent release.

Samah Hadid, director of Amnesty International's advocacy campaigns in the Middle East, said that Omeisy's arrest was in violation of Yemen's laws.

"Hisham al-Omeisy has been detained without charge or a court appearance in breach of Yemen's constitution, which requires anybody arrested to be presented in court within 24-hours."

"Yemen more than ever needs activists like Hisham al-Omeisy to bring attention to the devastation that war, famine and disease have wrought on the country and its people," HRW's Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson said.

"Houthi authorities should immediately release al-Omeisy and return him safely to his family."

HRW said it has documented 66 cases of arbitrary arrest by the rebels, who control Sanaa and other parts of northern Yemen. Two of the captives died in detention and 11 were tortured or ill-treated, it said.

The Houthis, allied with troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, are fighting government forces backed by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition.

More than 10,000 people - over half of them civilians - have been killed since the coalition intervened in 2015.

The fighting has caused a humanitarian catastrophe which the UN says is the world's worst, pushing seven million people to the brink of famine and sparking a cholera outbreak that the World Health Organisation says has killed 2,000 people.

But without voices like that of Omeisy, the crimes committed against Yemen's struggling population could once again be forgotten.

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