After 8 years awaiting execution… Who are the four released journalists in Yemen?

Sana'a – The 13-year-old girl, Tawakul, stood at Tadawin Military Airport in Ma'rib Governorate, watching the movement of planes transporting prisoners through the airport in the capital, Sana'a, which is under the control of the Houthis, waiting for a moment she was denied 8 years ago.

The scene of the small plane bearing the Red Cross logo landing on the airport and the prisoners disembarking from it will remain engraved in the girl's memory, as those scenes culminated in the embrace of her father, journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, who was kidnapped when she was in her fifth year of age.

A mixed state of feelings of joy, pain, sadness and happiness dominated the airport. Most of those released were civilians who were kidnapped when the war broke out in Yemen at the beginning of 2015, including the four journalists Tawfiq al-Mansouri, Abdul Khaleq Omran, Harith Humaid and Akram al-Walidi.

The journalists had been sentenced to death by the Houthis, and during their imprisonment they were subjected to various forms of torture, forced disappearance, medical neglect and deprivation of meeting or contacting their families, according to human rights reports and testimonies of their families.

opposite Samira Marsh

The Houthis repeatedly refused to release them, even as part of the exchange deal sponsored by the United Nations in 2020, when they released 5 journalists as part of the deal.

Their release came in the process of exchanging 880 prisoners, following an agreement between the Yemeni government and the Houthi group, according to which the group released 181 prisoners, including 15 Saudis and 3 Sudanese, in exchange for 706 prisoners from the group held by other parties.

A source in the Yemeni Ministry of Defense told Al-Jazeera Net that the Houthis' release of the four journalists was in exchange for the government forces' release of Samira Marsh, who is the only woman in the exchange deal.

Marsh was arrested 5 years ago after she was accused of planting explosive devices in the vehicles of government military leaders in Al-Jawf Governorate, after she disguised herself as a cleaning worker, according to the source.

He added that the Houthis recruited her after her husband was killed while he was fighting in their ranks, and when she demanded her husband's dues, they offered her to work with them, after which she managed a number of women's cells that planted explosive devices and determined the coordinates.

Government forces have previously shown videos of the confessions of two women's cells who were arrested in Ma'rib and Al-Jawf, after the arrest of Samira Marsh.

Abdul Khaleq Imran

The Houthis kidnapped journalist Abd al-Khaliq Omran, along with other journalists, in Sana'a, shortly after the outbreak of the war, during which he moved between several prisons and secret detention centers before being brought to trial in November 2018.

He and his four fellow journalists were sentenced to death, and at the end of 2021 his father passed away, affected by his health problems, which were outweighed by the absence and torture of his son.

Omran was responsible for a daily report monitoring war violations by all parties, before the Houthis stormed the hotel and kidnapped him with all the journalists.

During the years of imprisonment, his family was denied visiting him in the Central Security Prison, except for allowing him to contact them from time to time for a period of no more than 10 minutes in exchange for large sums of money and in the presence of Houthi supervisors, according to previous statements of his family to Al Jazeera Net.

With the increasing campaigns calling for his and his companions' release, the Houthis have forcibly disappeared him since mid-2021, and he has been prevented from contacting his family, so that there is no news of him completely.

Tawfiq Al-Mansoori

The Houthis kidnapped journalist Tawfiq with Abdul-Khaleq and the rest of the journalists, and he was subjected to physical and psychological torture and enforced disappearance before the Houthis admitted that they had him, and he was among those sentenced to death.

Al-Mansouri worked as a journalist and designer for the most prominent daily newspapers that were printed before the Houthis took control of the capital, Sana'a, in September 2014, such as Al-Masdar newspaper.

During his imprisonment, his father died in mid-2020, and his family was prevented from visiting him on more than one occasion, his brother tells Al Jazeera Net.

He added, "On one occasion, we asked the Houthis to allow us to enter food for him and his companions on the day of the feast, and after pleading and pleading with my mother, they accepted the matter, and when the feast came and my mother arrived with the food at the prison door, they threw it on the ground in front of her eyes."

Al-Mansouri was the most tortured journalist, and his companion, journalist Hisham Tarmoum, who was released in 2020, told Al-Jazeera Net, "I saw with my own eyes today the marks of the wound on the head of our colleague Tawfiq, and this was the result of the beating he received directly from the head of the Houthi Prisoners' Committee, Abdul Qadir Al-Murtada."

He added, "Before, they tortured us with their faces covered, but recently it was a matter of deep humiliation."

Akram Al-Walidi and Harith Hamid

Al-Walidi was with his two companions, Tawfiq and Abdul-Khaleq, when they were kidnapped, and he suffered what his two companions suffered, except that he was the most kidnapped who suffered due to torture and medical neglect, and the Houthis prevented him from being treated outside the prison.

On several occasions, he needed urgent eye operations, after his vision deteriorated, and he suffered from severe headaches due to illness.

Their colleague, journalist Hisham Al-Yousifi – who was released in 2020 – said that Al-Walidi and Hamid were subjected to various forms of torture, such as kicking, beating, sleep deprivation, and solitary confinement.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera Net, Al-Yousifi added, "We were all subjected to torture and racism, and they separated us from the prisoners, and we were always under supervision, so that we would not be martyrs to torture operations, and despite that, we were victims and witnesses to crimes."

Al-Yousifi continues, "Once, they forcibly disappeared us and we were completely forgotten for more than a year, so that sometimes they left us without food."

Justice will not lapse by statute of limitations

Journalist Hisham Tarmoum says, "The Houthi group is completely hostile to journalists and freedom of the press, and used the file of kidnapped journalists for political blackmail, and when they were tried, this was done according to extrajudicial trials that lack justice and fairness."

Speaking to Al-Jazeera Net, Tarmoum added, "After our trial, the group began to divide the file of the journalists, as 5 were sentenced to death and 5 others were sentenced to imprisonment, so that the five of us would be released at a later time, and after a while they released one of those sentenced to death."

Tarmoum expressed his happiness with the release process, but at the same time he said that the search for justice and fairness will not be subject to a statute of limitations.

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