SAM Organization for Rights and Freedoms calls the residential-city-turned-prison one of Yemen's most dangerous private prisons
Journalists and relatives detail horrors inside Houthi-run Al-Saleh prison in Taiz
When freelance journalist Anwar Al-Roke left Sana’a in late 2017 for his village in the Al-Raheda area in southern Taiz, he didn’t think the return home would take him another year.
A relative of the journalist said that after Anwar disappeared he continued to look for him for 10 months while staying in touch with SAM, a Geneva-based Organization for Rights and Freedoms.
SAM recently documented prison abuses in Taiz’s notorious Al-Saleh prison through dozens of interviews with former captives, their families and people close to Houthi officials running the prison.
Anwar's family found him by chance, when a relative showed up at the prison to visit another detainee. By the time the Houthis released Anwar, but he was in emaciated, ill, “in bad condition," the relative said.
Three days after his release, on July 2, 2018, Anwar died, having spent barely any time reunited with his family.
"Anwar was injected with acid in his blood, and within two days his health worsened, he could not speak and could not drink water,” the relative said.
His family took him to a clinic in the area, but the doctor told them Anwar's body would not respond to the treatment.
SAM documents how the Houthis turned the former residential building complex, once a magnet for the young and single, into secret prisons.
Another journalist, Badr Sultan Mohammed, was abducted on July 10, 2016, while travelling to Sana’a to attend a training course organized by a civil society group.
“Badr took a commemorative photo on the sidelines of the session with a leader of the General People’s Congress which was then an ally of the Houthi militia,” said Fahd Sultan, one of Badr’s brothers. “The Houthis used the photo as an excuse to capture and imprison him."
Before arriving to the notorious prison in Taiz in November 2019, Badr was detained at the Criminal Investigation Department and the Al-Thawra prison in Sana’a .
"Badr was severely tortured in (Sana’a), but the torture increased dramatically in Al-Saleh prison,” Fahd said.
He added that the Houthis denied visitation rights to the abductees’ families, and if visits took place they were difficult and exhausting.
"Visitation was possible in Sana'a, and his brothers could meet him and shake his hand," Fahd said. "When he arrived in Taiz, the visits were forbidden, and meeting him became impossible."
“When we did meet, there was an iron fence between us and Houthis soldiers prevented us from speaking,” he added.
Badr, 22, detained and tortured for nearly four years, is still in captivity.
A third Yemeni journalist, Tayseer Al-Smea’ee, recalled his five month stint at Al-Saleh prison in 2017.
"The prison lacks basic human needs, no mattresses and no blankets, most of the detainees sleep on floor tiles," he said. "If they get a blanket it is small and dirty. The Houthis closed the windows of the prison and left only a small opening. Sanitation is poor. Infectious insects such as lice had spread.”
Al-Smea’ee said the Houthis did not clean the prison cells and they denied prisoners the materials to clean the cells themselves.
"Prisoners are given very little and poor quality food and family visitors were not allowed to bring food," he said. "Health care is non-existent, and if the prisoner has any emergency, there is no one to treat him."
The journalist said the doctors provided by the Houthis to treat prisoners have no medical knowledge of severe medical cases, and treat them with basic medicines.
Five months in the prison gave Al-Smea’ee the chance to hear the experiences of other prisoners.
"Interrogations are often interspersed with torture and immoral practices,” he said. “I have listened to prisoners suffering, some of whom have been tortured and sexually violated."
Al-Smea’ee was released in June 2017 in a prisoner exchange deal between government forces and the Houthis.
Hundreds of other abductees inside Al-Saleh await their release.