In Yemen, Mothers Of Detained Won't Stop Protests Till Their Sons Are Freed : Parallels Mothers of detained journalists and activists in Yemen are protesting in public and seeking out international help.

In Yemen, Mothers Of Detained Won't Stop Protests Till Their Sons Are Freed

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Now to the humanitarian situation in Yemen, which has been experiencing a civil war since 2015. The country has been largely closed off by Saudi Arabia. But just yesterday, aid workers and much needed supplies were allowed into Yemen for the first time in weeks. There are also regular detentions of journalists and activists. Getting word out about them is difficult, but a group of mothers of the missing is trying. NPR's Ruth Sherlock recently met with a few of them.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language).

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: A protest by mothers of the disappeared in Yemen. This video shows them banging spoons and plates on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language).

SHERLOCK: Activists and journalists who criticize militias are routinely imprisoned on both sides of the war. But it's especially true in the capital, Sanaa. That's under the control of Houthi rebels and allied militias. Human Rights Watch has tracked dozens who've been arrested, and the mothers say there are many more. Since the protests aren't enough to get them released, some of these mothers crossed the front lines and many checkpoints to meet me and a small number of other reporters in Marib, a city on the government's side.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: This woman's son was arrested at a checkpoint. He was a freshman in college, studying journalism. She says all he did was speak out on social media.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Through interpreter) The charge against him is that he published his thoughts and opinions on Facebook.

SHERLOCK: She says he's treated terribly in the prison.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Through interpreter) He eats the rotten food or whatever leftovers the guards give him. Now, he's in solitary confinement in the dark.

SHERLOCK: She asks not to be named because just coming to meet us was a risky decision. The mothers say that speaking with the international media could make them targets when they go back, but they hope it will help. In one of the most prominent cases in 2015, the militias arrested nine journalists from a hotel in Sanaa. The journalists had been using the hotel as their office after it'd become too dangerous to go to their newsrooms.

AMIN AL-AYASHI: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: Amin al-Ayashi's son, Tawfik, was one of the journalists that was taken. She says it took her four months to find her son. When she eventually tracked him down, he was in a jail for people being held without trial.

AYASHI: (Through interpreter) Tawfik was in agony, and he was tired.

SHERLOCK: She breaks down into tears.

AYASHI: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: She says Tawfik is weak from torture.

AYASHI: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: Lots of the mothers I spoke to who had stories of torture. Their sons are beaten and deprived of sleep. Sometimes the gods play cruel games. One tells me her son was made to stand barefoot on an open can of tuna for hours. Journalists are seen as being especially dangerous criminals. Ayashi's family says they once got access to her son by lying to the prison guards about who they were coming to see. The mothers I met are all part of the Abductees' Mothers Association. That's a group formed to help the families through all this. One of the women who asked not to be named explained their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: In the protests, they carry fake corpses on stretchers. They bring the children of the prisoners with them. It can be dangerous. Sometimes, even the bus drivers get arrested for just taking them to the demonstrations. But the women say they will keep on protesting. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Marib.

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