Rare anti-Houthi protests in Yemen after activist's death

This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo)

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Rare protests have erupted against Yemen’s Houthi rebels following the funeral of a popular critic found dead after he was detained by the group.

Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of angry demonstrators carrying the body of Hamdi Abdul Razaq through the streets of Ibb province on Thursday.

Eyewitnesses, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, said the Thursday protests spanned several neighborhoods and protesters were heard chanting “No Houthis after today.”

Activists have accused the rebel authorities of abducting, torturing and killing Hamdi Abdul Razaq, who spoke out against the Houthi authorities in videos posted on Youtube. Followers knew him by his profile name, “Al-Mukohl." He was reported dead by authorities late last week. His family have not commented on the incident.

In a series of videos, Abdul Razaq openly criticized Houthi rule, branding its administration as corrupt and repressive.

Houthi forces, who control Sanaa and most of northern Yemen, have cracked down on dissent in their territories. Some who oppose them have been charged for working with Saudi Arabia, which heads the coalition battling the Houthis.

Yemen’s devastating conflict began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition, which included the United Arab Emirates, intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power. Since then, it has devolved into a war of proxies, with Iran backing the Houthis and Saudi Arabia and the UAE backing pro-government forces.

In a statement following Thursday's protest, the Houthi authorities claimed Abdul Razaq had been detained for insulting another influential family in the area. On Sunday, he escaped through a bathroom window of the police station and was found in a half-constructed building later that day, it said.

In a statement Thursday, the head of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, Rashed Al-Alimi, offered his support to the protesters. The Saudi-backed leader said a monthly stipend would be given to Abdul Razaq’s family.

Mohammed Ali, a high-ranking Houthi official, later said on Twitter that a committee had been set up to further investigate the incident.

His death comes amid a string of similar reported incidents. Earlier this year, a fruit and vegetable vendor from northern Houthi-held territories was abducted and killed, whipping up widespread anger across the divided country.

On Tuesday four activists were handed prison terms, ranging from six months to three years, by a Houthi court for their criticism of the Iran-backed rebels on social media, a lawyer said.