AL-MUKALLA: Yemen government officials and rights groups have urged the Iran-backed Houthis to stop torturing four abducted journalists held inside their prisons and to urgently send them to hospital as they are suffering from life-threatening diseases.

Yemenis say that the Houthis have subjected the journalists to physical and psychological torture in detention, throwing them into solitary confinement and depriving them of vital medicine.

Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, Akram Al-Walidy, Abdul Khaleq Omaran and Harith Hamid are among nine journalists who were abducted by the Houthis from a Sanaa hotel in 2015.

Five journalists were freed from Houthi detention during the largest successful prisoner swap between the Yemeni militia and their opponents in 2020.

The Houthis abused the incarcerated journalists, later put them on trial and sentenced them to death on charges of being “cloak-and-dagger” activists for the Arab coalition.

Yemen’s officials and journalists’ families said that they developed severe health problems due to the Houthi torture and are facing death if the Houthis do not take to them to hospital or provide their medication inside cells.

Yemen’s information minister, Muammar Al-Eryani, slammed the Houthis for exacerbating the health conditions of the journalists and called for international action to pressure the Houthis to set them free.

“We hold terrorist Houthi militia of Iran fully responsible for the safety of journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansori, &his fellow journalists who are under forcible disappearance for 7 yrs, after his health deteriorated & contracted chronic diseases due to torture & lack of basic necessities,” the Yemeni minister said on Twitter, accusing the Houthis of using the abducted journalists as a bargaining chip to extract concessions from the Yemeni government during talks.

“We call on intl community and UN & US envoys to observe their legal mandate &pressure Houthi militia to provide urgent health care to journalist Al-Mansouri, release him & his fellow journalists immediately & unconditionally, & stop using them as political bargaining chips.”

International rights groups echoed concerns about the worsening health conditions of the four journalists and Houthi indifference to calls for the militia to treat them well and release them.

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties urged the UN and international charity and right groups to put pressure on the Houthis to immediately admit the journalists, mainly the critically ill Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, to hospital.

“SAM calls on the United Nations and the Red Cross to pressure the Houthi group to urgently transfer journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri to the hospital and unconditionally release him and all his fellow journalists,” SAM said in a statement.

Due to an intensifying crackdown by the Houthis, who militarily took over power in Yemen in late 2014, hundreds of journalists, activists, politicians and military and security figures have been forced into fleeing Sanaa and other areas, and settled in government-controlled areas or into exile.

The Houthis closed dozens of media outlets, rounded up many of the journalists who stayed behind and confiscated their properties before putting them on trial.