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AL-MUKALLA: Representatives of the Yemeni government and human rights groups have urged the Iran-backed Houthis to stop torturing four abducted journalists held in their prisons and send them urgently to hospital because they suffer from life-threatening illnesses.

Yemenis say the Houthis subjected the journalists to physical and psychological torture in detention, placing them in solitary confinement and depriving them of life-saving drugs.

Tawfiq Al-Mansouri, Akram Al-Walidy, Abdul Khaleq Omaran and Harith Hamid are among nine journalists who were abducted by the Houthis from a Sanaa hotel in 2015.

Five journalists have been released from Houthi detention in the largest successful prisoner swap between the Yemeni militia and their opponents in 2020.

The Houthis abused jailed journalists, then brought them to trial and sentenced them to death on charges of being “cloak and dagger” activists for the Arab coalition.

Yemeni officials and the journalists’ families said they had developed serious health problems as a result of the Houthis’ torture and risked death if the Houthis did not take them to hospital or provide their drugs inside the cells.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani criticized the Houthis for worsening the health conditions of journalists and called for international action to pressure the Houthis to be released.

“We hold Iran’s Houthi terrorist militia fully responsible for the safety of journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansori and his fellow journalists who have been under enforced disappearance for 7 years, after his health deteriorated and contracted chronic illnesses due to torture and lack of basic necessities,” the Yemeni minister said on Twitter, accusing the Houthis of using kidnapped journalists as bargaining chips to extract concessions from the Yemeni government during the talks.

“We call on the international community and the UN and US envoys to respect their legal mandate and pressure the Houthi militia to provide urgent health care to journalist Al-Mansouri, thus release him than his fellow journalists immediately and unconditionally, and stop using them as political bargaining chips.

International rights groups have echoed concerns about the worsening condition of the four journalists and the Houthis’ indifference to calls for the militia to treat them well and release them.

The Geneva-based Organization SAM for Rights and Freedoms has urged the UN and international charities and rights groups to pressure the Houthis to immediately admit the journalists, mainly Tawfiq Al-Mansouri , seriously ill, in the hospital.

“SAM calls on the United Nations and the Red Cross to put pressure on the Houthi group to urgently transfer journalist Tawfiq Al-Mansouri to the hospital and unconditionally release him and all his fellow journalists,” SAM said in a statement.

Due to intensified repression by the Houthis, who seized power in Yemen militarily in late 2014, hundreds of journalists, activists, politicians and military and security figures were forced to flee Sanaa and other areas, and settled in government-controlled areas or in exile.

The Houthis shut down dozens of media outlets, arrested scores of remaining journalists, and confiscated their property before bringing them to justice.