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Yemen: Houthis sentence model Entisar al-Hammadi to five years in prison

Yemeni-Ethiopian model denies accusations of 'drug abuse' and 'prostitution' following February arrest
Entisar al-Hammadi, a Yemeni model and actress, has been given a five-year sentence by a Houthi court for 'drug abuse' and 'prostitution' (Screengrab/YouTube)

A high-profile Yemeni model and actress has been sentenced to five years in prison by a court run by Yemen’s Houthi authorities for "drug abuse" and "prostitution", charges rejected by her defence and condemned by rights groups.

Entisar al-Hammadi, 20, who was arrested in February, received the sentencing on Sunday from a court in Sanaa, according to activists and legal officials.

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She was also sentenced for using drugs, the Houthi-run news outlet Saba reported on Sunday, adding that three other women were sentenced alongside her for crimes including debauchery, prostitution, violating public morality and drug taking.

The Houthis took over Sanaa in 2014 and have been enforcing a "morality campaign", particularly against women.

Hammadi was arrested on her way to a photoshoot on 20 February in the capital Sanaa, when Houthi forces stopped a car she and three others were driving in.

Her lawyer, Khaled al-Kamal, said that his client was arrested for riding in a car with a man accused of drug dealing, and that photographs of her were treated as an act of indecency.

Hammadi was blindfolded and taken to be investigated, where she was held incommunicado for 10 days, Kamal said.

He added that Hammadi, who was born to a Yemeni father and Ethiopian mother, had been the subject of racist abuse by authorities.

'Indecent' acts

The model was featured in several TV shows last year. She has appeared without a headscarf in photographs published online, defying societal norms in the conservative country.

She has thousands of followers on Instagram and Facebook.

Hammadi’s choice of career, which is uncommon in Yemen, has drawn ire. In an interview in October 2020, she said that some of the obstacles she faced were that “I live in a conservative society, and the customs and traditions”.

A friend of Hammadi previously told MEE that she was kidnapped by the Houthis because of her way of life. 

Rights activists say Hammadi has been subjected to unfair trial and abuse under the Houthi authorities, who have accused her of going against Islamic principles.

“Houthi authorities forced Hammadi to sign a document while blindfolded during interrogation and offered to release her if she would help them entrap their enemies with 'sex and drugs'," according to a Human Rights Watch report published in June.

She was also threatened with a virginity test in May, the New York-based rights group said.

In June, the model appeared in two hearings "on the apparent charges of committing an indecent act and drug possession", Human Rights Watch said at the time.

Shortly afterwards, Hammadi reportedly attempted to take her life as a result of the prison administration transferring her to its “prostitution section”, according to Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

The Houthi movement outsted Yemen’s internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014 and now controls most of northern Yemen.

Despite a longstanding taboo in Yemen against women’s detention, scores of women are being held in Houthi jails accused of prostitution.

Prostitution is illegal in Yemen and, prior to the beginning of the war in 2015, was punishable by death.