CAIRO – Their mothers and sisters cried with joy while women from the neighborhood ululated as 46 Yemeni detainees walked free on Tuesday after months — and some even years — spent in detention in one of several prisons controlled by the United Arab Emiratis in southern Yemen.
Images posted on social media show the freed men grinning and flashing V signs for victory as their loved ones and neighbors hugged and kissed them in the southern port city of Aden.
The saga of the detainees from the Beir Ahmed prison in Aden is one of many tragic twists in the brutal civil war that has roiled the Arab world's most impoverished country where a Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is a part, is fighting Yemen's Shiite rebels to restore to power the country's internationally recognized government.
The 46 freed were the third patch of prisoners released after The Associated Press revealed that hundreds of Yemenis swept up in anti-terror raids by Emirati-backed forces have been subjected to torture and sexual abuse aimed at brutalizing the detainees and extracting "confessions" as part of a U.S.-backed, anti-terror campaign.
Prosecutor Mohammed Ali Saleh confirmed the release of the 46 on Tuesday, without elaborating, while the detainees themselves gave The Associated Press a list with their names.
Among them was 23-year-old Saddam al-Azazi, held since June last year. His mother said she fainted when she heard the news that her daughters had to carry her to see her son.
"I walked two steps and my legs couldn't carry more anymore," she said, declining to give her name, fearing for her family. "When my son hugged me, all the neighbors in all the houses were ululating and crying at the same time."
According to AP reporting, in an incident on March 10, inmates in Beir Ahmed were forced to undress as Emirati officers searched their anal cavities, claiming to be looking for contraband cellphones.
Drawings smuggled out by a Yemeni detainee at Beir Ahmed gave a grim glimpse into a hidden world of flagrant human rights abuses by UAE officers acting with impunity in several other prisons.
The drawings — made on plastic plates — show a man hanging naked from chains while he is being subjected to electric shocks, another inmate on the floor surrounded by snarling dogs as several people kick him, and graphic depictions of anal rape.
The UAE has denied it runs prisons in Yemen, insisting the Yemeni government is in full control. But Yemen's Interior Minister Ahmed al-Maysari says he has no control over the prisons.
The AP first asked the Pentagon about the abuses a year ago but 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 United States has seen no evidence of detainee abuse in Yemen.
"U.S. forces are required to report credible allegations of detainee abuse," Rankine-Galloway said. "We have received no credible allegations that would substantiate" the reports.
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.