MARIB, Yemen — Farouk Baakar was on duty as a medic at al-Rashid hospital the day a bleeding man was brought into the emergency room with gunshot wounds and signs of torture. He’d been whipped across the back and hung by his wrists for days.
The patient, Baakar learned, had been left for dead by the side of a highway after being held captive in a prison run by the Houthi rebels who control northern Yemen.
Baakar spent hours removing bullets and repairing ruptured intestine. He tended to the patient’s recovery for 80 days and, at the end, agreed to pose for a selfie with him.
Weeks later, Houthi security officials grabbed the man again. They searched his phone and found the photo.
Then they came for Baakar.
Militiamen stormed the hospital, blindfolded Baakar and hustled him away in a pickup truck. Because he’d given medical help to an enemy of the Houthis, they told him, he was now their enemy too. He spent 18 months in prisons within the expanse of Yemen controlled by the Houthis. He says they burned him, beat him and chained him to the ceiling by his wrists for 50 days until they thought he was dead.
Baakar and his patient are among thousands of people who have been imprisoned by the Houthi militia during the four years of Yemen’s grinding civil war. Many of them, an Associated Press investigation has found, have suffered extreme torture — smashed in their faces with batons, hung from chains by their wrists or genitals for weeks at a time, scorched with acid.
The AP spoke with 23 people who said they survived or witnessed torture in Houthi detention sites, as well as with eight relatives of detainees, five lawyers and rights activists, and three security officers involved in prisoner swaps who said they saw marks of torture on inmates.
These accounts underscore the significance of a prisoner-swap agreement reached Thursday at the start of United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Sweden between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States.
As a confidence-building measure, the two sides agreed to release thousands of prisoners, though details must still be hammered out. But while the coalition side would release captured Houthi fighters, the rebels would largely free civilians who, like Baakar, were imprisoned in brutal sweeps aimed at suppressing opposition and obtaining captives who could be traded for ransom or exchanged for Houthi fighters held by the other side.
The Abductees’ Mothers Union, an association of female relatives of detainees jailed by the Houthis, has documented more than 18,000 detainees in the last four years, including 1,000 cases of torture in a network of secret prisons, according to Sabah Mohammed, a representative of the group in the city of Marib.
The mothers’ group says at least 126 prisoners have died from torture since the Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
Mosques, ancient castles, colleges, clubs and other civilian structures have served as first-stop facilities for thousands of detainees before they are moved into …read more