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Women in Yemen targeted by the Houthi rebels

As they grow more politically active, women in Yemen are increasingly targeted by the Houthi rebels.

Hundreds of women have vanished into secret prisons where they are tortured and sometimes raped, former detainees and other activists say.

The Houthis deny the claims, but six women who escaped to Egypt spoke to the Associated Press about their ordeals.

Samera al-Huri’s fellow activists were disappearing, one by one. When she asked their families, each gave the same cryptic reply: “She’s traveling.”

A few of the women re-emerged. But they seemed broken and refused to say where they had been for months.

A dozen officers from the Houthi rebels who control northern Yemen snatched her from her home in the capital, Sanaa, at dawn.

They took her to the basement of a converted school, its filthy cells filled with female detainees. Interrogators beat her bloody, gave her electrical shocks and, as psychological torture, scheduled her execution only to call it off last-minute.

Activists and former detainees described a network of secret detention facilities where they are tortured and sometimes raped.

Taiz Street, a main avenue in Sanaa, is dotted with several of them, hidden inside private villas and the school where al-Huri was held.

“Many had it worse than me,” said al-Huri, 33, who survived three months in detention until she confessed on camera to fabricated prostitution charges, a grave insult in conservative Yemen.

Long-held traditions and tribal protections once guarded women from detention and abuse, but those taboos are succumbing to the pressures of war.

As men die in battle or languish in jail in a conflict now dragging into its sixth year, Yemeni women have increasingly taken political roles. In many cases, women are organizing protests, leading movements, working for international organizations or advocating peace initiatives — all acts the Houthis increasingly view as a threat.

“This is the darkest age for Yemeni women,” said Rasha Jarhum, founder of the Peace Track Initiative, which lobbies for women’s inclusion in peace talks between the Houthis and Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

“It used to be shameful for even traffic police to stop a woman.”
Estimates of women currently detained range from 200 to 350 in the governorate of Sanaa alone, according to multiple rights groups. The Yemeni Organization for Combating Human Trafficking says that’s likely an undercount.