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A Yemeni Political Analyst Has Been Held By Houthi Rebels Since August, With No Explanation

Hisham Al-Omeisy with his two sons. Photo shared by Iona Craig on Twitter.

Prominent Yemeni political analyst and writer Hisham Al-Omeisy has been held incommunicado since being detained in August.

According to Amnesty International, members of the Houthi-controlled National Security Bureau arrested Al-Omeisy in the capital Sana'a on 14 August 2017. Al-Omeisy's is a crucial voice in reporting the ongoing conflict in Yemen. He has been critical of both warring parties.

For more than two years, a coalition of Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh (who was removed from power following street protests in 2011) have been fighting to seize power from the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. In September 2014, the Houthi-Saleh alliance took control of the capital Sana'a, and has since taken over key government agencies and ministries, and other areas mostly in northern Yemen.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition fueled by US, UK and French arms trade deals, launched an airstrike campaign to repel the advance of the Houthis and support Hadi's government.

The ongoing war has plunged Yemen into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured, millions are at risk of famine and in need of humanitarian aid.

The human cost of this war has largely gone unreported, save for the work of a handful of outspoken activists like Al-Omeisy.

With more than 32 thousand Twitter followers, Al-Omeisy has been actively tweeting about the humanitarian crisis and violations committed by both warring parties. Prior to his arrest, he had analyzed and spoken about the conflict to international media including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, NPR and TRT World. Al-Omeisy is also a contributor to The Observers, a collaborative site by France 24 that covers international affairs by verifying and contextualizing eyewitness accounts shared by contributors. Earlier this year, he penned a story on the humanitarian impact of the war, describing how he has attempted to shield his children, two boys aged seven and 11, from the “ugly realities” of the conflict by censoring himself in their conversations.

It remains unclear why Al-Omeisy was arrested. But prior to his arrest, on 12 August, he tweeted in both Arabic and English about “corrupt officials” confiscating real estate by force in the capital Sana'a.

It remains unclear who these “armed goons” are, and whether this tweet has anything to do with his arbitrary detention, but since Sana'a is under the control of Houthi militias and Saleh forces, one can imagine that he may have been referring to these groups.

Iona Craig, a journalist covering Yemen and a friend of Al-Omeisy, told CBC Radio that “it could be those two events are connected.” She also added that Hisham was previously interrogated by the Houthi-Saleh forces for his outspokenness. She explained:

There's a general sense of paranoia in Sana'a anyway. Anybody who speaks out, particularly to the international media, as Hisham has done, and is an English speaker, there's a lot of suspicion. People are very quick to accuse people of being spies. Most activists and even independent journalists left any of the territory that was controlled by the Houthis because they were being persecuted.

As Al-Omeisy remains in arbitrary detention and without charge, his friends and supporters continue to demand his release. In a statement published on 25 September, the University of Winchester at which Al-Omeisy is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree, called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Mr Hisham Al-Omeisy is a conscientious and very well-respected member of the student community at the University of Winchester, and we are deeply worried about his safety. He is currently a student on our MA in Reconciliation and Peacebuilding, and this reflects his peaceful nature and character, and great desire to bring an end to the violent conflict which is afflicting Yemen.

Our understanding is that Mr Al-Omeisy has merely peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression through reporting how the fighting in Yemen affects the local population. He has bravely called on all sides of the violent conflict to stop abusing human rights.

On Twitter, rights activists and supporters continue to demand Al-Omeisy's release under the hashtag #FreeHisham.

Hisham Al-Omeisy's [Twitter] page used to report to the world the famine, destruction and the devastation Yemen is witnessing. This angered the Houthis, so they arrested him #FreeHisham

The conflict in Yemen has come to be known as the “forgotten war.” There is strong reason to believe that the risks journalists and media face while covering the clashes have exacerbated the lack of media coverage and reporting on violations committed by the Houthi-Saleh forces or Hadi and his allies. With Al-Omeisy in detention, another key voice is under threat.

We spoke to Hisham Al-Omeisy three years ago on the Yemeni uprising, in one of our GV Face episodes. 

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