Authorities in southern Yemen on Sunday released a high-profile journalist whose six-month detention and mistreatment directly implicated the U.S. and its close partner, the United Arab Emirates.
Last September, local officials had arrested Adel Al-Hasani, a reporter based in Aden who contributed to award-winning international coverage of the crisis in Yemen in outlets like PBS and CNN. They tortured him behind bars and kept him separated from his family, including an infant daughter born while he was detained, while offering constantly shifting explanations for why he had been targeted.
On Monday, Al-Hasani confirmed to HuffPost that he is now free, saying he is “grateful” to friends who highlighted his case worldwide.
“After much obstacles and difficulties, we were finally able to free Adel Al-Hasani,” his lawyer, Liza Manea Saeed, told HuffPost. “He is now among family and is now safe, thank God. We thank all of those who supported Adel and helped contribute to securing his freedom.”
Presented with HuffPost’s reporting, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) ― a prominent critic of U.S. intervention in Yemen ― urged President Joe Biden and the UAE to push for his release.
The Biden administration privately intervened on Al-Hasani’s behalf, a U.S. official told CNN.
In 2015, the UAE joined a military campaign in Yemen that pitted U.S. partners against the Houthis, a Yemeni militia supported by Iran. As the country saw an opportunity to grow its influence, it trained, armed and funded the Southern Transitional Council (STC), whose forces had targeted Al-Hasani. The Emiratis provided the STC with American weapons, boosting its power.
A source close to Al-Hasani told Human Rights Watch that he had been harassed for seeking information about the UAE’s role in Yemen.
Amid global criticism of the U.S.-backed coalition’s conduct in the country ― including hundreds of alleged war crimes ― the UAE pulled out many of its ground troops in 2019. But the Emiratis remain deeply involved in the Yemeni civil war through groups like the STC, and continue to support ally Saudi Arabia in policies like a naval blockade that pushed millions of Yemenis into famine-like conditions.
Under Biden, Washington cut off offensive assistance for the Saudis, the UAE and allied Yemenis in their fight against the Houthis ― support that under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Biden reversed Trump-era policies that sought to hurt the Houthis while making life harder for regular Yemenis, like cutting off aid to Houthi-run parts of Yemen and designating the militia as a terror organization, and his team says it is focused on brokering a deal to end the fighting and the humanitarian crisis.
The opposing sides are still clashing, however, and the U.S. remains entangled because Biden pledged to help defend Saudi Arabia from Houthi missile and rocket attacks. The Houthis are continuing an offensive on the strategic region of Marib, which threatens thousands of people already displaced from other parts of Yemen.
United Nations experts and watchdog groups say all parties to the conflict have repeatedly mistreated journalists like Al-Hasani.
Reacting to Al-Hasani’s release on Twitter, Osama Alfakih of the Yemeni nonprofit Mwatana for Human Rights called it “wonderful news” and urged the Houthis to release the reporters in their prisons.