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AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

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AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis – being beaten, burned by acid, having their fingernails torn out and being hung for weeks by their wrists from the ceiling, a torment one prisoner said was worse than the electrical shocks he’d also been given.

Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages. The man had been tortured so badly he’d lost his mind and couldn’t even tell what had happened to him.

Months of source reporting also gained Michael a major scoop. A senior Houthi official sent her video by an internal Houthi committee that investigated torture in the movement’s prisons, before it was squashed by Houthi hardliners. The video included the Houthi leader’s own brother urging an end to the use of torture. It was more than that – the exclusive news revealed splits among the Houthis and an unprecedented look into the internal workings of a group often seen as a monolithic force.

The news, accompanied by an explainer video by Peter Hamlin,was timely as the Houthis and their opponents held peace talks about the release of prisoners. Rather than denying the story,a top Houthi figure reacted by calling for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

The work,supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting,was a breakthrough in coverage of the war,as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. It gained widespread praise among Yemen experts. Gregory Johnsen,one of the most prominent analysts of Yemen, tweeted:

The story won wide play and Michael was interviewed on NPR about the team’s work.

For their investigation that exposed in raw,excruciating detail the scope of torture
committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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