POLITICS

U.S.-Linked Forces Are Detaining A Prominent Journalist In Yemen

Adel Al-Hasani has investigated his country's crisis for the BBC, CNN and Vice. Allies of the United Arab Emirates have imprisoned him for nearly six months.

Yemeni journalist Adel Al-Hasani always knew his work was risky. He’s spent years trying to inform the world about the crisis in his country, where the U.S. and other nations have fueled a civil war since 2014. 

That included working with foreign reporters to shed light on the crisis. In September, he intervened with officials in Yemen’s port city of Mokha to help two international journalists who had been detained when they traveled there to cover the war. After Al-Hasani negotiated their release, they were deported back home to Europe. 

Soon afterward, when he tried to return to his own home in Aden ― a major city controlled by forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, a close U.S. partner ― authorities there arrested him.

He’s been behind bars ever since, where he has been tortured into providing false testimony and repeatedly provided differing explanations of his charges, his lawyer, Liza Manea Saeed, told HuffPost. She said she has obtained legal paperwork clearing him of all charges, which should require officials to release him.

Because of his detention, Al-Hasani has been unable to meet his youngest child, a daughter who is less than month old.

“I have given my best to show the world what’s going on in Yemen, my country … what have I done, what have I committed to deserve all of this?” Al-Hasani recently asked in a message shared with friends working to free him.

On Friday, a family member told HuffPost his condition is deteriorating rapidly. (The relative asked to remain anonymous for their own safety.)

Al-Hasani’s detention ― revealed here for the first time ― poses a stark threat to journalism highlighting the dire conditions in Yemen, sending the message that even the best-connected reporters and their partners are vulnerable. It could deter other Yemenis from chronicling their worsening reality and make it harder for journalists abroad, where there is growing alarm over Yemen’s suffering, to track the consequences of the war and how foreign interference is making it more deadly.

Yemeni journalist Adel Al-Hasani has helped bolster international coverage of the world's worst humanitarian crisis since 201
Yemeni journalist Adel Al-Hasani has helped bolster international coverage of the world's worst humanitarian crisis since 2015.

As a local contact and contributor to award-winning coverage for major news outlets like the BBC, PBS, CNN and Vice, Al-Hasani is well-known among analysts and journalists tracking Yemen. Multiple human rights groups are independently investigating his case and say it’s clear he must be freed.

“Adel Al-Hasani’s detention and ill treatment for months are emblematic of how Yemen’s journalists have been targeted ... for years,” said Justin Shilad, the senior Middle East and North Africa researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It’s the latest example of how there is no safe place in Yemen to be a journalist and points to how respect for press freedom and journalists is essential to any political settlement in the country.”

“Nobody is supposed to be detained or forcibly disappeared for their journalistic work. These acts must stop immediately,” Mwatana for Human Rights, a well-regarded Yemeni watchdog group, told HuffPost in a statement.

Al-Hasani’s situation implicates the U.S., which is already tied to hundreds of alleged war crimes in Yemen and yet purports to shield press freedom around the world. 

HuffPost’s reporting and Mwatana’s research both show that the Southern Transitional Council, the reigning group in southern Yemen, is responsible for Al-Hasani’s detention at Mansoura prison in Aden. Mwatana believes the Security Belt, a militia aligned with the council, is involved. 

That means the U.S. is clearly linked to Al-Hasani’s detention. Washington sent billions of dollars in weapons, bombs and other military support to the UAE since it began intervening in Yemen in 2015, making it possible for the Emirates to fund, arm and empower the council, which is now a major player in the conflict. According to Amnesty International and CNN, the UAE has provided proxy groups like the Security Belt with sophisticated U.S. weaponry in defiance of Pentagon restrictions, while targeting local political opponents through an assassination campaign staffed by former U.S. soldiers that was revealed by BuzzFeed News

Representatives for the UAE did not respond to requests for information on Al-Hasani’s case.

After years of criticism from lawmakers, anti-war activists and national security analysts about how the UAE and its ally Saudi Arabia have behaved in Yemen, President Joe Biden announced plans last week to end U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations against the Houthis, a Yemeni militia backed by Iran. He is also reviewing major weapons deals for the UAE and the Saudis.

Adel is paying the price for exposing the ugly truth of war profiteering and U.A.E. influence. Afrah Nasser, Human Rights Watch

The news of Al-Hasani’s detention will likely strengthen the case for a serious shift in America’s approach that will support peace in Yemen and avoid further human rights violations.

“I‘m very concerned to hear that Yemeni journalist Adel Al-Hasani has been detained by U.A.E.-backed forces,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), an influential skeptic of the Yemen war, told HuffPost. 

“As we saw with the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the perpetrators of this conflict fear the world learning about their war crimes in Yemen,” Khanna continued. “Adel’s story is unfortunately not unique. Reporting from journalists like Adel has shined a light on the brutal horrors of this conflict, and helped the American people and Congress realize we must end all U.S. involvement. The U.S. must work with the U.A.E. to immediately release him.” 

In 2018, Al-Hasani issued a public warning to international media outlets about the danger to him and other Yemenis who were helping to report on the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. He spoke to Roads & Kingdoms about his experience as a fixer for visiting reporters with high-profile news agencies. 

“A few words to these selfish journalists who do not care about fixers’ security and fixers’ lives: Think about these fixers and think about their families,” said Al-Hasani, who at the time had two children, ages 5 and 3. “Think about their safety back home. You just do your story in one week, two weeks, and you go. They have to live with it forever in their country.”

Al-Hasani has been detained before while reporting, but never for as long as this.  

A family member told HuffPost that he “worked in a matter that was legal and abided by the rules. He had worked with several outlets before.” Al-Hasani’s family believes his detention is about more than Yemeni regulations: “They didn’t want him doing this work in his humanitarian field, and conveying to the world the impact and suffering caused by the war,” the relative continued.

Since his detention in September, Al-Hasani and his advocates have been reluctant to draw public attention to his case, hoping it could be resolved through private legal efforts and discussions. Saeed, his attorney, said she has been working around the clock to secure her client’s release and submitted multiple complaints — reviewed by HuffPost ― challenging his detention.

But they now feel public scrutiny is essential to securing his release.

“The law won’t achieve justice for me,” Al-Hasani said in his message.

Security forces loyal to the U.A.E.-backed Southern Transitional Council arein the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on Dec.
Security forces loyal to the U.A.E.-backed Southern Transitional Council arein the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, on Dec. 20, 2020.

United Nations experts warned in their latest report on Yemen, published just weeks ago, that “impunity” has become the norm as the country’s judicial system has crumbled.

Clashes continue between the Houthis, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council and Saudi-linked Yemeni forces who are loyal to the country’s internationally recognized government. As they have fought, these groups have created an environment of “systematic repression” for journalists, according to the January U.N. assessment. 

The experts said the Southern Transitional Council has detained at least two reporters ― one of whom was severely beaten ― and four in Aden have received direct threats. One journalist was also assassinated in the city. The Houthis have arrested at least 10 journalists, torturing them in overcrowded facilities.

“Warring parties and authorities have conducted campaigns against press workers and journalists,” Mwatana said.

Afrah Nasser of Human Rights Watch told HuffPost she has reached out to the Southern Transitional Council regarding Al-Hasani and believes its backer, the Emirates, could be motivated to arrest him because of his past work.

“Adel is paying the price for exposing the ugly truth of war profiteering and U.A.E. influence and I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.A.E. really wanted Adel to be silent and put behind bars,” Nasser told HuffPost.

For Al-Hasani, who is used to telling such stories rather than being the focus of the story, creating international awareness about his plight is a last-ditch effort. 

“I don’t really [feel] very safe in my current place,” he said in the message. “My friends, I am now desperate.”