Written by Cardiff Amnesty member, Elizabeth.
Luke Symons was brought up here in our own city of Cardiff but has been detained for nearly five years in Yemen by the Houthi de facto authorities. It is only right that the Amnesty group in his home city should be committed to campaigning for him.
Luke grew up in Ely, and in his late teens he converted to Islam, taking the name Jamal. Some ten years ago, when he was 20 and working as a barber, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He then travelled to Egypt and Yemen, where he taught English. In Yemen, he met and later married Tagreed. Together they have a six-year-old son, Hoode.
The ongoing conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels escalated in 2015, when Saudi Arabia joined in on the government side (the UK helped with arms, but that’s another campaign!). The Houthis are backed by Iran.
Luke and Tagreed’s home was bombed. To escape the conflict the family fled to Djibouti, but were threatened by the Houthis who ran the embassy. They travelled on to Ethiopia where the UK embassy in Addis Ababa refused to issue Tagreed with a travel visa due to her documents having been lost when their home was bombed. They were forced to return to Yemen.
In 2017, when Luke presented his British passport to withdraw money he was arrested by the Houthis as a spy, and has been detained ever since without trial. Whilst detained he was tortured and sustained a broken arm. He has experienced periods of solitary confinement. Not surprisingly, his physical and mental health are deteriorating and his family are incredibly concerned for him. He has had some visits from his wife, and phone calls with his family in Cardiff, but he has never been charged or appeared before a judge. A 2018 release order from the Supreme Political Council has not been implemented and there is no indication of when he will be released.
Hundreds of Yemenis were released in a prisoner exchange scheme in October 2020, but the Houthis are said to have reneged on the deal and Luke was not included. Some wounded Houthis were returned from Oman, and Luke and his family were due to be on the return flight. They were not – the excuse offered was that they had been unable to get to the airport on time. However, three US citizens were repatriated.
Luke’s MP, Kevin Brennan, has repeatedly raised his plight in Parliament, and at a meeting in Westminster to discuss Nazanin’s detention, he cited Luke’s case and complained of the UK’s ‘seeming inability to get our people held captive overseas released’ compared with other countries.
Amnesty International UK will continue to campaign for his release and you can use their online Urgent Action (HERE) to send an email to Mohamed Abdelsalam, the spokesperson for the Houthi. You can find a draft letter to edit yourself and further details about Luke’s case and the situation in Yemen in the accompanying Urgent Action document HERE.
If you would like to support this campaign locally or hear more about the work of Cardiff Amnesty you can contact us at email@example.com or via our socials.