CAIRO – With hugs and kisses, family and friends of a Yemeni actor celebrated Monday after he and at least three other detainees were freed from prisons controlled by the United Arab Emirates in southern Yemen where they had been held without charges for nearly a year.
The actor, Nasser al-Anbari, a well-known comedian who appeared in TV shows and online videos, grinned and waved as he walked among the well-wishers in the southern city of Aden and motorists honked their car horns, a video filmed by his family shows.
"I couldn't believe my eyes. I was filming him while in disbelief," said one of al-Anbari's sons. When al-Anbari met with his wife, who has cancer, "the two wept," the son said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.
The release on Monday came days after The Associated Press revealed that hundreds of Yemeni prisoners swept up in anti-terror raids by Emirati-backed forces have been subjected to torture and sexual abuse. In Aden's Beir Ahmed prison, where al-Anbari was held, hundreds of inmates were forced to undress and Emirati officers searched their anal cavities, claiming to be looking for contraband cellphones.
At least three others were also freed from various Emirati-linked facilities. One was an elder called Mahmoud al-Baydani, who used to work for the International Committee of the Red Cross to help mediate releases of hostages held by al-Qaida. He had been held at Beir Ahmed and another UAE-controlled prison in Buriqa. One of the others was held in a lockup in the house of Aden's Emirati-backed security chief Shalal Shaye.
A brother of one of the newly released detainees told the AP that "he was freed all of a sudden without notifying the family in advance." The brother said the family found out about his release when he arrived at the house, half an hour later.
A state prosecutor, Mohammed Ali Saleh, declined to give specific answer. "We are still investigating," he said.
Security officials told the AP that more prisoners are expected to be released in the coming days from different secret prisons in Aden.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.
UAE denied that it controls any prisons in Yemen and said that Yemen's government is in full control.
Yemeni Interior Minister Ahmed al-Maysari has said on previous occasions that he has no control over the prisons and he can't enter Aden without the Emiratis' permission. The UAE is a key U.S. ally whose secret prisons, where torture is said to be widespread, were first reported in an AP investigation last June. The AP has since identified at least five prisons where security forces use sexual torture to brutalize and break inmates.
The AP first asked the Pentagon about abuses committed by the UAE one year ago. Despite reports of torture documented by the AP from former and current detainees, human rights groups and the United Nations, Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen no evidence of detainee abuse in Yemen.
"U.S. forces are required to report credible allegations of detainee abuse," he said. "We have received no credible allegations that would substantiate the allegations put forth in your line of question/story."
U.S. officials have acknowledged that American forces receive intelligence from UAE partners and have participated in interrogations in Yemen. Rankine-Galloway said he could not comment on intelligence sharing with partners.