The Ansar Allah (known as the Houthis) group in Yemen announced on April 13, Monday, the release of over 2,000 prisoners. This is reportedly a preventive step in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Houthi chief prosecutor Nabil al-Azani said in a statement that 2,361 prisoners had been released from parts of the country under their control since mid-March as a precautionary measure. According to al-Azani, those released met certain eligibility criteria, including having served three quarters of their sentences, as well as good conduct during the period served.
The announcement comes amid news of the first case of COVID-19 being confirmed in the country ravaged by more than five years of war and internal violence. International groups like Oxfam have called the development a “devastating blow” and the International Rescue Committee has described the situation as a “nightmare scenario”. Due to the prolonged conflict, the Yemeni health system is already stressed and diseases like malaria, dengue and cholera are rampant in the country due to a severe lack of sanitation and other health safety standards. The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator has warned that the spread of COVID-19 in Yemen would be “catastrophic”.
The World Health Organization is reportedly sending medical supplies, testing kits and ventilators to Yemen, as well as training Yemeni doctors and other medical services professionals in preparation for a potential outbreak.
The western-backed Yemeni government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, supported financially and militarily by the Saudi-led Gulf coalition, also announced that it had freed more than 500 prisoners from different areas of the country under its control as of April 1. The Saudi military coalition also announced a unilateral two-week ceasefire last week following urgent calls by the United Nations for halting all hostilities and violence due to the COVID-19 emergency.
On April 10, Friday, the national emergency committee of Yemen announced that a 60-year-old worker at the al-Shahr port in the southern oil-producing region of Hadramawt had been infected, but was stable and in a quarantine center. Following news of the first case, a curfew from Friday morning until Saturday was imposed by the authorities in Hadramawt. All public markets were shut down and public gatherings of any kind remained banned.