Houthis free Yemeni military commander after 8 years in captivity
Yemeni army commander Faisal Rajab was released by the Houthis on Sunday after eight years in captivity.
In a ceremony attended by its leader and other senior officials in Sanaa, the Houthis released Maj. Gen. Rajab to a group of Yemeni tribal elders from Abyan, Shabwa and Al-Bayda who had traveled to the city to request his release.
Abdulkader Al-Murtada, head of the Houthis’ prisoner exchange committee, said the commander was pardoned “in honor” of the elders.
Rajab, along with former defense minister Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Subaihy and former intelligence chief Nasser Mansour Hadi, was captured near Al-Anad military base in Lahj province in March 2015. The men had been part of an effort to gather military forces in the area to fend off the Houthis’ expansion across southern provinces.
Al-Subaihy and Hadi were among 900 captives freed two weeks ago during a second prisoner exchange between the warring factions but Rajab was not given his freedom and his family was not allowed to visit him.
Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, hailed Rajab’s release and urged both sides to strive for the release of all detainees in accordance with their pledges under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement.
“I welcome the unilateral initiative by Ansar Allah to release GEN Faisal Rajab,” he said on Twitter. “I appeal to all parties to build on the progress achieved & intensify the efforts to release all detainees, based on the “All for all” principle as stipulated in the Stockholm Agreement.”
Majed Fadhail, a member of the Yemeni government involved in the prisoner exchange talks, also welcomed Rajab’s release.
“We are relieved to hear that Maj. Gen. Faisal Rajab has been released. We hope that all prisoners and detainees are released from these criminal rebel militias’ prisons and detention facilities,” he said on Twitter.
But some Yemeni activists and journalists described Rajab’s release as a charade designed to improve the militia’s image, and urged the Houthis to release hundreds of other prisoners and forcibly disappeared people, including politician Mohammed Qahtan.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said that two of the four journalists freed in the last prisoner exchange were now in hospital.
Tawfiq Al-Mansouri and Harith Hamid were taken to a hospital in the central city of Marib to be treated for health problems they contracted while being detained by the Houthis. They, and hundreds of other detainees, had been subjected to “barbaric psychological and physical torture,” he said.
Al-Mansouri and Hamid were among nine journalists abducted from a hotel in Sanaa in 2015 and sentenced to execution by a Houthi court.
Soon after his release, Al-Mansouri told reporters that Al-Murtada had personally abused him in jail, an accusation the Houthi official disputed.