SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A court run by Yemen’s Iran-backed rebels sentenced an actor and model to five years in prison on charges of committing an indecent act and having drugs in her possession, her lawyer said Monday. Three other women, the actor's travel companions, were also handed prison terms.
The arrest in February of Intisar al-Hammadi, 20, and the three other women — as well as the proceedings against them — have been widely criticized by international rights groups.
The case has highlighted widespread repression of women in areas under control of the rebels, known as Houthis, in war-torn Yemen.
The verdicts were handed down on Sunday, said lawyer Khalid al-Kamal, who represents all four women. Like al-Hammadi, one of the other three women received a five-year term; the other two were sentenced to one and three years in prison, respectively. Al-Kamal said he would appeal the sentences.
Human Rights Watch has said that the trial was “marred with irregularities and abuse.”
The New York-based rights group said in June that the rebels confiscated al-Hammadi’s phone and “her modeling photos were treated like an act of indecency." The Houthis also labeled her a “prostitute,” HRW said.
“The sentence is unfair & politically motivated,” tweeted Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni researcher with Human Rights Watch.
There were no details as to what the “drug possession” charge referred to.
Since their arrest, the women have languished in a rebel-run prison where guards also verbally abused al-Hammadi, HRW said.
In Yemen, which has been embroiled in a civil war since 2015, women who dare dissent, or even enter the public sphere, have become targets in an escalating crackdown by the Houthis. In April, women activists and former detainees described to The Associated Press a network of secret detention facilities where they are tortured and sometimes raped.
Al-Hammadi, born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, has worked as a model for four years and acted in two Yemeni soap operas in 2020. She was the sole breadwinner for her four-member family, including her blind father and a disabled brother.
HRW also said the Houthis had earlier offered to release al-Hammadi if she would help use “sex and drugs” to entrap their enemies — an apparent reference to Yemen's internationally recognized government and the Saudi-led coalition backing it.
Dozens of Yemeni public figures condemned the verdict against al-Hammadi and her companions, calling their trial “politically motivated.”
Moammar al-Iryani, information minister of the internationally recognized government, urged the international community, including the United Nations and the United States, to pressure the Houthis to free the four.
Yemen's conflict has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Magdy reported from Cairo.