Amnesty: Yemen's Houthis must release model fearing 'virginity testing'

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FILE PHOTO: People shop at a market in the old quarter of Sanaa

DUBAI (Reuters) - Amnesty International said on Friday Yemen's Houthi authorities must halt plans for forced virginity testing and release an actor and model the human rights group says has been detained on "spurious grounds."

Twenty-year-old Yemeni Intisar al-Hammadi was arrested in February at a checkpoint in the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Houthi group in Yemen's six-year conflict.

A judicial source previously told Reuters she had been charged with carrying out an indecent act and going against Islamic principles.

"Intisar al-Hammadi has regularly appeared in photographs online including in social media posts, without a headscarf defying strict societal norms in Yemen," Amnesty said.

Yemen has consistently been at the bottom of the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap index.

"Hammadi was arrested by plainclothes security forces at a checkpoint in Sanaa on 20 February," Amnesty said. "While detained, she was interrogated while blindfolded, physically and verbally abused, subjected to racist insults and forced to 'confess' to several offences, including drug possession and prostitution."

Amnesty said her lawyer was informed on Wednesday by a member of the prosecution team of plans to carry out a virginity test on her within days.

Amnesty says forced virginity tests are a form of sexual violence amounting to torture under international law.

"The Houthi de facto authorities have a deplorable track record of arbitrarily detaining people on baseless charges – to silence or punish critics, activists, journalists and members of religious minorities – as well as subjecting them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment," said Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf.

Houthi authorities did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Amnesty said Hammadi's lawyer in April was approached by a gunman who threatened him and asked him to drop the case.

The Houthi movement, which holds most of northern Yemen, ousted Yemen's internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.

(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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