Report: Mass torture in network of UAE-run prisons in south Yemen

A report obtained by Al Jazeera reveals the existence of 27 sites used to torture and sexually abuse Yemeni detainees.

Yemen prisons
A deserted cell in the public section of Aden Central Prison [File: Maad El Zikry/AP Photo]

A report obtained by Al Jazeera alleges that detainees in a network of clandestine prisons set up by the United Arab Emirates across southern Yemen have been exposed to a host of brutal interrogation techniques that included physical and psychological torture.

The report – which was provided by Yemeni military figures who worked with the Saudi-UAE coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi rebels – described scenes of sexual abuse by Emirati army personnel and their Yemeni surrogates.

Individuals endured rape at the hands of coalition forces and were subjected to electrocution in the genitals, chest and armpits.

Some detainees were hung in midair while being insulted and beaten, the report said.

Electric cables were used alongside wooden bats and steel poles during the interrogation sessions.

In some instances, the detainees are described as having been deprived of sleep and confined to narrow spaces with poor hygienic conditions and limited air ventilation. 

For some, this was accompanied by sessions where their skins were lashed with whips and their wounds were subsequently covered in salt. Others had industrial nails inserted into their finger and toenails. 

The report alleged more than 49 people died as a result of the torture and five gravesites were used to bury the deceased. 

The account confirms a report by The Associated Press published in June over alleged acts of torture perpetrated by members of the Saudi-UAE coalition in a network of at least 18 secret prisons.

According to AP, hundreds of men were rounded up and detained on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s Yemen branch (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). At the time of publication, AP said that UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The report obtained by Al Jazeera put the number of secret prisons at 27, including sites in Hadramout, Aden, Socotra, Mayyun Island, as well as a facility in Eritrea where the UAE maintains a military base.

War in Yemen

With logistical support from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have carried out attacks in Yemen since March 2015. The war effort is ostensibly an attempt to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In 2014, Hadi and his forces were overrun by Houthi rebels who took over much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. 

On August 9, more than 50 people were killed in a Saudi-UAE coalition air raid on Saada province – the Houthi heartland. The majority of those killed were children heading for Quran classes.

Just a week earlier, dozens of people – including women and children – were killed in Yemen’s Red Sea port city of Hodeidah in mortar attacks believed to be carried out by the Saudi-UAE alliance.

According to the UN, at least 10,000 people have been killed in the war – a death toll that has not been updated in years and is certain to be far higher. 

In June, Saudi and UAE forces carried out 258 air raids on Yemen, nearly one-third of which targeted non-military sites.

The Yemen Data Project listed 24 air raids on residential areas, three on water and electricity sites, three hitting healthcare facilities, and one targeting an IDP camp.

Source: Al Jazeera