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“Wanted” list Spreads Fear in Yemen Among Critics of the Houthis

A “list of shame” has been published, on street corners and on public transportation throughout cities in Yemen. The roll call includes 54 names, all individuals who have criticized Yemen’s de facto rules, the Houthis or publicly advocated recent Saudi airstrikes. The seriousness of the list, and the implied threat to those on it, continues to be debated.

“We have received many complaints about the fact that people are included on this list,” Mohammad Al-Bukhaiti, of the Houthi’s political office, told The Media Line. Officially the Houthis have not confirmed their involvement with the list, nor have they explicitly reassured the 54 individuals that no threat towards them is intended.

“People on that list should be relieved to know that they are not being pursued by the (Houthis), even though most of them deserve to be pursued and punished,” Al-Bukhaiti said, adding, “but that will not happen now, but after the war.”

The list does “not include the Supreme Revolutionary Committee’s seal” and is therefore not official, so these people are not being pursued, Al-Bukhaiti said. Names could be taken off the list and others added to it following the war, Al-Bukhaiti explained, saying, “The list is not final nor official, it’s merely stickers in public streets and on public transportation – there are no upcoming actions related to it.”

Mohammad Al-Bukhaiti hinted that those who had published the list were members of his organization who “opposed the (Saudi) bombardment befalling the country” but had failed to consider that the Houthi is at war and that “this is not the right time to be making such lists.”

“We are upset with those who made (the list),” Al-Bukhaiti said, admitting that the publication had been widely condemned by Yemenis and that a number of those named on it had complained to his offices.

First published on May 5, the roster was originally seen in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Subsequently, it has appeared in streets in other cities too. The individuals on the list have been dubbed “The Card Deck List” as their photos were framed as a deck of cards, possibly inspired by the US military’s “personality identification playing cards,” handed out to troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Those named include media personalities, clerics, politicians and army commanders.

The poster, in which the photos were placed, read: “Wanted to face justice – the betrayers and the shamed, the supporters of the Saudi aggression against Yemen. These individuals are wanted so that justice can be brought to the people. These characters have fought a war against their own country by supporting the aggressors with political, diplomatic, media and military support.”

Some are skeptical about the Houthi political office’s disassociation from the list. “The list was officially made by the Ansar Allah,” journalist Mused Al-Salimi, told The Media Line, using an alternative name for the group. “However, because of the group’s involvement in a war against Saudi Arabia, the internal security forces, and the international community, the group has started to take its decision back. (This is) simply because it is not the right time to pursue leading figures and create animosity with them,” Al-Salimi explained.

Those who were included in the list and were accused of “supporting the Saudi aggression against Yemen” include a number of politicians, among them Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the internationally recognized president of Yemen, and Ali Salem Al-Bidh, the president of South Yemen before unification in 1990.

A majority of the named are no longer resident in Yemen and could not be reached by The Media Line for comment. Most have refrained from publically commenting on the inclusion of their names on the posters.

Other figures listed continue to live in Yemen but were unable to be reached due to their ongoing involvement in security operations against the Houthis. Three women, a minister, a youth activist and a former human rights minister, were also named.

But some individuals have chosen to comment on the list. “The Houthis and the deposed president’s militia are hanging my photo in the streets as a wanted person,” Tawakul Karman, a youth activist and undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, posted on Facebook, “this is a badge of honor.”

“The Houthis use intimidation tactics against those who oppose them – it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book,” Nadia Al-Sakkaf, Yemen’s Minister of Information and the head of the government’s High Committee for Relief, told The Media Line. “The fact that my name is on (this list) does not concern me at all because I don’t recognize their authority and history will put matters in real context and show who betrayed their country and who defended it,” Al-Sakkaf said.

The extent to which the Houthi is involved in the declaration has been questioned by some. Hussein Al-Bukhaiti, a pro-Houthi media activist, argued that, “Ansar Allah are too smart to get involved in making such a list officially.” He suggested the posters had been placed by young activists who were angered at the Saudi airstrikes and wanted to see those who supported them tried. Hussein added that, “The group may have aided the young men in making that list, and allowed them to compile those names. It could even have an unofficial relation to it in order for it not to be dragged into new animosities.”

Many of the figures on the list, politicians, military officials and a leading cleric, publicly supported Saudi air operations over Yemen. Sheikh Abdulmajid Al-Zandani, head of Yemen’s Clerics Authority, issued a statement several weeks ago saying “Operation Decisive storm was undertaken for legitimate reasons in order to save vulnerable Muslims and to defend those (in Yemen) who called for help.”

Tawakul Karman, who publically mocked the list via Facebook, had also previously expressed support for Saudi airstrikes on Twitter. In a post she thanked coalition forces, saying she was grateful to them for supporting her country in its opposition to Iran and its agents, who posed an existential threat to Yemen.

The Houthi group is mostly made up of members of the Zaidi sect, an off shoot of Shi’ite Islam. They have been accused of being supported by Iran and have been involved in violent battles in the south and north of Yemen since September last year.

Saudi Arabia began air operations against the Houthis this year in an effort to drive back the Shi’a group’s gains. So far, the Saudi Royal Air Force appears to have struggled to have the impact upon the Houthis it has aimed for.

Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered one of the most credible branches of the Islamist franchise, are present in the east of Yemen and have taken advantage of the ongoing chaos.