Detainees at a detention facility in Yemen's southern governorate of Aden face serious health risks from the rapidly spreading Covid-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on Thursday.
"Bir Ahmed is an overcrowded, informal detention facility in a military camp controlled by Yemeni authorities affiliated with the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed Southern Transitional Council" (STC), the group added in a report supported with witnesses by detainees' relatives.
"The detention facility authorities in early April transferred 44 detainees into a room of only about 10 square meters that had previously held 4 people," relatives of 5 detainees told HRW.
"The detainees lack masks, gloves and hygiene products to protect themselves from Covid-19, and basic health services.
"The authorities should take immediate steps to ease the extreme overcrowding and reduce the risk from the virus, starting by releasing those held without charge or for exercising their basic rights," HRW urged.
"The grossly overcrowded conditions and absence of health care at Aden's Bir Ahmed facility threaten the lives of detainees and facility staff as Covid-19 spreads in Yemen," deputy Middle East director at HRW said.
The STC authorities "should urgently address the inhumane detention conditions and release those detained arbitrarily," Michael Page added.
Detainees have been held at Bir Ahmed without charge or trial for up to two years, Mothers of Detainees Association told HRW.
"Aden authorities should end the multiple rights violations inherent in cramming detainees in a horrifically confined space during the Covid-19 pandemic and release those never charged or posing no risk," Page said.
Last May, the Yemeni internationally-recognized government declared Aden as an infected city, following an increase in Covid-19 deaths.
On 26 April, the STC announced state of emergency and self-government in Aden and other southern provinces under its control, amid Arab and international rebuff.