Paris-Geneva, October 16, 2023 – Five members of the human rights organisation Mwatana for human rights were prevented from travelling by the de facto Ansar Allah (Houthi) authorities, without any legal justification, in violation of their right to freedom of movement. The Observatory condemns this arbitrary obstacle to their freedom of movement and calls on all parties to the ongoing conflict in Yemen to put an end to any act of harassment against Mwatana members and all human rights defenders in the country, and to uphold the right to freedom of movement.
On September 30, 2023, security agents affiliated with the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group, which currently exercises de facto control over northern Yemen, including the capital Sana'a, prevented Ms Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of the Mwatana for Human Rights organisation, Mr Abdul-Rashid Al-Faqih, Vice-Chairperson of the organisation, and three other members of Mwatana for Human Rights, from travelling through Sana'a International Airport, without providing any legal justification. The security agents presented themselves using pseudonyms and refused to disclose their affiliations. They summoned the five human rights defenders for 10-minute individual interrogations, informing them of the existence of a travel ban against them following alleged “higher orders”. The security agents also returned the luggage that had been shipped into the airplane and cancelled departure visas for two members of the organisation before they boarded the plane. The five human rights defenders were released without charges after the interrogation but remain under travel ban for an indefinite period of time.
Mwatana for Human Rights is an independent Yemeni organisation established in 2007, member of FIDH, which advocates for human rights through the verification and documentation of violations, provision of legal support to victims of human rights violations, as well as awareness raising and capacity building.
Sana’a International Airport, which is located in the area de facto controlled by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group at the time of publication of this statement, has been partially open since April 2022. Since then, several violations by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group infringing upon the freedom of movement through Sana'a International Airport and the land routes connecting various regions of Yemen have been reported, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, travel bans, mistreatment, extortion, intimidation, and discrimination based on regional, local, minority, gender, or any other basis.
The Observatory recalls that this arbitrary travel ban on Mwatana’s members is part of a broader campaign of harassment against the organisation, including its management, and its team. On June 18, 2018, Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdul-Rashid Al-Faqih were arbitrarily detained by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition at Seiyun Airport, eastern Yemen. Abdul-Rashid Al-Faqih was also detained by internationally recognised government forces and Islah Party at Al-Fulj checkpoint, in Marib, on June 14, 2018, while he was on his way to travel through Seiyun Airport with Radhya Al-Mutawakel. On March 4, 2017, upon his return from an international conference in Jordan, organised by the International Federation of Journalists and the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, and attended by several international organisations, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group arbitrarily detained and interrogated Abdul-Rashid Al-Faqih at Sana'a International Airport, seized his passport and prevented him from travelling.
The Observatory strongly condemns the obstacle to freedom of movement and arbitrary travel ban on Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Abdul-Rashid Al-Faqih, and three other members of Mwatana, and urges all parties to the ongoing conflict in Yemen to put an end to all acts of harassment against them and all other human rights defenders in Yemen, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities and exercise their rights without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.
The Observatory further calls on all parties to the ongoing conflict in Yemen to uphold freedom of movement and to lift all arbitrary travel restrictions on human defenders and all citizens in the country, as enshrined in the Constitution of Yemen as well as in international human rights standards, and in particular in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Particularly, the Observatory calls on the de facto Ansar Allah (Houthi) authorities to reopen and lift all arbitrary restrictions on the travel of Yemeni through Sana'a Airport and its checkpoints along the highways linking the governorates, and on the internationally recognised government of Yemen to reopen and remove all restrictions imposed on Yemeni airports currently partially operating.