Thousands of civilians, captured by the Houthi militia in Yemen, are being tortured and even beaten to death, according to the Associated Press report. Testimonies connote inhumane torture methods, including hostages being smashed in their faces with batons, hung from their wrists and genitals using chains, and burnt with acid.
The nerve-wracking accounts of pardoned inmates have underlined the significance of a massive UN-backed prisoner swap, recently, signed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed Yemen’s government, who have been warring since March 2015.
The deal implicates the release of 5,000 prisoners from both sides as a confidence-building move to reinforce the peace talks.
In three-and-a-half-year, over 18,000 people on record have been jailed and tortured by the Houthi fighters. Rights groups have also reported torture in secret prisons operated by the Yemeni government and its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In 2016, Yemeni medic Farouk Baakar was arrested by seven militiamen from al-Rashid hospital in north Yemen for treating a Houthi-tourtured victim.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that Farouk Baakar held captive for 18 months in a “Pressure Room,” built in the basement of decades old Ottoman castle in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah.
The Houthis stripped Mr Baakar and pulled out his nails and hair. He was also hit with melted plastic, beaten and chained to the roof by his wrists for 50 days, until he appeared to be dead.
“It was so painful, especially when they come the next days and press on the bruises with their fingers,” Farouk Baakar said.
He described the methods of tortured used by the Houthis on other prisoners. They were tortured with makeshift tools such as electrical wire.
One prisoner was hung to the ceiling by his genitals and he could not urinate. Another suffered an acid attack that melted his skin, sealing his buttocks. Mr Baakar used wire in order to make an opening and help the man remove excrement.
The doctor was set free last December after his family paid 5.5 million rials, to the Houthis. He fled to Marib, an anti-Houthi stronghold in central Yemen. The homeless doctor now lives in a tent.
He is amongst 23 people interviewed by AP, who either endured or witnessed torture in Houthi prisons.
Another Houthi-critic, Anas al-Sarrari is now bound to a wheelchair, after getting paralysed by suffering torture in a Houthi-controlled detention centre. He was brutally beaten up with a stun gun on his legs.
He was hung by the hands for 23 hours each day until the handcuffs pierced his wrists. There was nobody to help him get to the bathroom, so he had to urinate and defecate on himself until he was pardoned.
“To see people with disabilities, coming out of prison after excessive torture will terrify everyone – ‘Look, this will happen to you if you speak up’,” al-Sarrari said.
Monir al-Sharqi, a lab technician, was tortured to an extent that he lost the ability to speak. According to his family, al-Sharqi was detained by the Houthis for his activism. After a year, he was found dumped by the river-side with gruesome wounds.
The testimonies surfaced months after Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the UAE, Saudi Arabia and their allied Yemeni forces, of running secret prisons in the south of Yemen, where detainees are tortured to death.
The rights groups also claimed that people had been electrocuted, stripped, caned and whipped in those prisons.
Meanwhile in southern Yemen, which is under the control of recognised government and allies, former detainees described their torture.
Adel al-Hassani, who was once detained in Bir Ahmed prison in the southern port city of Aden said that the Emirati guards hung him from the ceiling and electrocuted him in his genital area.
“When the night comes in the UAE prisons, you hear the screams everywhere,” said the former pro-government soldier who was arrested for criticizing the Emirati, UAE involvement in Yemen war.
He added: “Some guys are dangled or suspended. Others are electrocuted, and others stripped or kicked.”
He described his horrific experience as: I was bound by my hands and legs. They blindfolded me and threw in a narrow hole in the desert, nicknamed the “monster hole”, for two days where I almost died.
The report submitted by the UN panel of experts in August stated that all warring parties may have committed grave war crimes. Also, the UN experts visited the Bir Ahmed prison, where they found the prisoners being sexually abused and even raped.
The United Nations believes the peace negotiations in Stockholm will call for ceasefire, allowing humanitarian aid groups to start the rescue projects in most ravaged areas. Moreover, swapping the detainees will help people to return home after enduring years of torture.
The International Red Cross said it would supervise the dealing, which will happen in due course.