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Yemenis have become well acquainted with death and the many faces of injustice during these past seven years of war, but the Houthi movement’s September 18 public execution of eight men and a teenager staked claim to a new level of horror. With it, the Houthis sent a clear and unambiguous message to ordinary Yemenis of their intent to cement their rule through terrorizing society into submission. 

The nine victims, all from the western Tihama region, were neither politicians nor activists or journalists, but ordinary people plucked from their ordinary lives to serve as a message to all Yemenis. They were convicted in a secretive sham “trial” of providing the coordinates for an Emirati drone strike that killed Saleh al-Sammad, then-president of the Houthis’ Supreme Political Council, in Hudaydah in April 2018. Three years after their detention, based solely on confessions secured through torture and their presence at a rally attended by Al-Sammad, they were slaughtered in one of Yemen’s most famous and revered public spaces, Al-Tahrir Square. 

The Houthi organizers sought a festive atmosphere for their spectacle of death, with children present, music blaring for the crowds and cameras capturing the scene as the executioners pumped bullets into the bodies of the eight men. The teenager among the nine condemned, Abdulaziz Ali al-Aswad, had been arrested at just 13-years-old and so tortured during his three years in Houthi custody that he had been partially paralyzed and had to be carried by his killers to his terrifying end. The Houthis had intended to execute a tenth man at the event, Ali Abdo Kazaba, but he reportedly did not live long enough at the hands of his interrogators to attend. 

Houthi rule already had set the country back decades, with the group crushing Yemen’s vibrant media, throttling civil society and silencing the many voices and parties that had made the capital city’s political scene relatively active and free-speaking. Even after seven years of this though, the horrific scenes the Houthis proudly celebrated this month had been unthinkable. Yemenis were stunned. 

The Yemeni judiciary has rarely been just. The criminal courts have long been known for legal violations and selective enforcement. Since the Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2014 they have also shown an increasing zeal for capital punishment. This month’s officially sanctioned brutality, however, set a new precedent, clearly positioning the courts as a weapon of state terror the Houthis will wield upon the population. It also entails worrying political and diplomatic implications. The Houthis clearly have become unabashedly confident in practicing power their way, which runs in direct contradiction to the concepts of social and political partnership they have often spoken about and which are considered essential for any possible political settlement to the war. 

The reactions of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and other international stakeholders in the ongoing conflict were paltry in the shadow of this atrocity, issuing statements with words that are empty and forgettable without action to back them. Such will only embolden the Houthis. Dozens of other Yemenis currently in Houthi custody are facing death sentences, while anxiety runs wild among those who might be the next targets for Houthi ‘justice’.

Besides Al-Aswad, on September 18 the Houthis unjustly executed Moaz Abdul Rahman Abdullah Abbas, Ibrahim Mohammed Abdullah Aqel, Abdul-Malik Ahmed Hamid, Mohammed Khaled Haig, Mohammed Mohammed Ali Al-Mashkhari, Mohammed Yahya Muhammad Noah, Ali Ali Ibrahim Al-Quzi, and Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Quzi. The names of these ordinary people, who along with Kazaba were largely overlooked while in Houthi custody, should be known and remembered because their deaths made it undeniably clear just what sort of post-conflict society the Houthis envision if the world accepts and recognizes their “governance”.


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The Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies is an independent think-tank that seeks to foster change through knowledge production with a focus on Yemen and the surrounding region. The Center’s publications and programs, offered in both Arabic and English, cover diplomatic, political, social, economic, military, security, humanitarian and human rights related developments, aiming to impact policy locally, regionally, and internationally.

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