SANA’A, Mar. 6 – Two people were allegedly killed and one wounded by the military in Amran governorate at a “peaceful anti-government protest” last Friday. The protest was organized by the rebel Houthi group, who were calling for the overthrow of the regime. The Houthis accused the Yemeni military of opening fire on the protesters.“The dead bodies are still with the military and also the wounded,” Ali Al-Dailami, head of the Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, told the Yemen Times. “We won’t check the legality of the military keeping the bodies as the whole behavior is against the law that guarantees the right of life and the right of expression,” he added.
The government claims that the protest wasn’t peaceful and that the Houthis started the violence against soldiers which led to the injury of four soldiers.
“Around 11am today [Friday], an armed group of men attempted to overrun a military checkpoint in Tamthalah. Both sides exchanged gun fire which injured four soldiers – two of which are in a critical situation – and additionally three armed men were injured. There were no peaceful demonstrations in the vicinity of the checkpoint,” read a statement from the government.
The Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, which is concerned about the relationship between the Houthis and the government, condemned the targeting of anti-government protesters in the south and in the northern areas (Amran and Sa’ada) of the country. A statement from the organization claimed that the violations against anti-government protesters are systematic, not individual mistakes, and should be taken as war crimes to be dealt with by the International Criminal Court.
The state spent six years at war with the Houthis which ended last year in a truce. According to Al-Dailami, the Houthis this time chose a peaceful way of protesting in harmony with other Yemeni governorates that are holding peaceful demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the regime. The government responds differently to protesters in different governorates.
“The state is using violence in the areas that they are scared of, such as the southern governorates, because of the absence of a strong media role there, and tensions in the government of the protests increasing,” said Al-Dailami.
The government uses the participation of some Houthis in the capital’s anti-government protests to throw suspicion upon the aims of the revolution. Some people who want to join the anti-government protests do not because of the presence of Houthis. “I would be crazy to join the protests while the Houthis are there,” said Nuha Saif, who works at an international organization. She believes the protests would be dangerous to attend if Houthis are there.
The general impression at anti-government protests in Sana’a is that there is no harm from the Houthis, and that they are part of the Yemeni people who have the same right as others to reject the regime.
“We noticed their presence at the Sana’a University sit-in, but they are Yemeni citizens before anything else,” said Al-Dailami. “They are there as individuals, not as a group, and they didn’t try to organize themselves with any group.”
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has warned that the call to overthrow the regime is made by the Southern Movement and the Houthis. He has claimed the former are aiming for the separation of Yemen, and the latter for turning the republic to a Shi’ite kingdom.
“The regime is desperate. This shows when the regime is trying to create zones of discrimination by treating the southern people as separatists, the Houthis as royalty, and people from the central area’s as ‘burgholis’. This is a word used to denigrate someone,” Al-Dailami explained.
The state is now accused of trying to incite peaceful protesters to become violent, and to distort the values of the “peaceful revolution,” according to Dr. Al-Murtadha Al-Muhatwari, a Shi’ite scholar who is concerned with Houthism.
“After six years of war between the Houthis and the government, for them to choose peaceful protests is something that should be encouraged, but the state doesn’t know anything but violence,” he said.
Al-Muhatwari said that the message the state wants to send is that they don’t acknowledge peaceful protests and all they know is violence. “The regime is the one who is tearing apart the country. If the regime is overthrown, the country will be more unified than ever, including with the Houthis,” said Al-Muhatwari.
From a religious point of view, some Islamic scholars have announced that calling for the overthrow of a regime is wrong as it is disobeying the ruler. Al-Muhatwari responded by saying “It’s prohibited for the state to kill its citizens, and they have killed over 20,000 citizens in Sa’ada because they are Shi’ite. Enough! They are citizens after all, whether they are Shi’ite or even Jews. Even if they were animals they shouldn’t be killed,” he said angrily.
Al-Dailami said that the truce between the Houthis and the state is in danger after the violence on Friday. Al-Muhatwari said that the regime can’t afford a seventh war with Houthis.