International human rights NGOs denounce that a Yemeni model and actress has been unjustly imprisoned since February. She would have been forced to sign a confession, blindfolded, victim of physical and verbal assault, in addition to the threat of being subjected to a “forced virginity test”.
Intisar al-Hammadi, 20, was arrested on February 20 by Houthi authorities, who control northern Yemen, on charges of “indecent acts” and possession of drugs.
According to the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), the case is fraught with irregularities and abuse.
For Amnesty International, Intisar, who posted photos on social media without an Islamic veil, is being punished for “defying the norms of deeply patriarchal society” in Yemen.
While the Houthi rebels dominate the north of the country, the south is controlled by the separatists. Allied government forces are trying to reclaim national territory with the help of a Saudi-led military coalition. The daughter of a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, Intisar was a model for four years and starred in two Yemeni TV series in 2020. Her relatives told HRW that she was single-handedly supporting a family of four, including her father, who is blind, and her brother, who has a physical disability.
Khaled Al-Kamal, Intisar’s lawyer, said that on February 20 her car was stopped by police and that she was arrested along with the three other people in the vehicle. The model was taken to a criminal investigation building, where she remained for ten days with no access to the outside world and no news from her family members. In March, she was transferred to Sana’a central prison.
People who visited her in the penitentiary said she was forced to sign an admission to prostitution and drug possession while blindfolded during questioning and authorities promised to release her if she helped capture enemies by seducing them with “sex, alcohol and drugs”, which she refused.
According to the lawyer, Intisar was arrested for being in the car with a man accused of drug trafficking. He further claims that his phone was confiscated and his photos as a model were treated as indecent.
The model attended court hearings on June 6 and 9, but her lawyer was barred from working in city court, preventing her from representing her client.
Al-Kamal said he was threatened by a gunman, a supporter of the Houthis, who said he and his family would pay a price if he didn’t stop representing Intisar. The authorities withdrew from the “virginity test” after Amnesty International issued a document condemning the problem.
Forced virginity testing is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights and a cruel and degrading form of gender-based violence. The WHO (World Health Organization) specifies that these tests have no scientific validity and that health professionals should never apply them.
This Wednesday (30), a Yemeni journalist posted on Twitter that Intisar attempted to kill himself in prison. He attributed the information to a parliamentarian in the country.
A virtual campaign uses the hashtags #FreeIntisar and #FreeEntisar to request the output of the template.
HRW spokesperson for the region, Lynn Maalouf, said Houthi authorities used to detain and torture people without a legal basis in order to punish critics, journalists, activists and religious minorities. The NGO demanded an explanation from the Houthi-controlled government, but received no response.
According to a 2020 report by the Associated Press, the Houthi crackdown on women is escalating, with detainees missing and tortured. The model is said to be just one of many Yemenis arbitrarily arrested. Intisar’s lawyer said there were five other women incarcerated at the same location, charged with “crimes” related to “indecent acts”.