CAIRO — A court run by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Saturday sentenced 44 people to death, including a businessman working with aid groups, on spying charges, a defense lawyer said.

The 44 were among 49 people who were detained by the Iran-backed rebels and accused of “collaborating with the enemy,” a reference to the Saudi-led coalition that has been at war with the Houthis since 2015, lawyer Abdel-Majeed Sabra said. Four were given prison sentences, Sabra said.

Sixteen were sentenced to death in absentia, while 28 were brought before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital Sanaa, Sabra said.

Among those sentenced to death was Adnan al-Harazi, CEO of Prodigy Systems, a Sanaa-based company that developed systems to help humanitarian groups register and verify the distribution of aid to those in need in the war-stricken country.

The Houthis detained al-Harazi in March last year after throwing stones at his company. Saturday’s court ruling included the seizure of al-Harazi’s properties, Sabra said.

Sabra accused the Houthis of torturing the suspects “physically and psychologically,” adding that they were disappeared in solitary confinement for nine months.

He said the defense team withdrew at the beginning of the trial after the judges refused to allow them to obtain a copy of the case documents, describing the trial as “unfair.”

A spokesman for the Houthis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thousands have been imprisoned by the Houthis during Yemen’s civil war. An AP investigation found some detainees were scorched with acid, forced to hang from their wrists for weeks at a time or were beaten with batons.

Courts in Sanaa and other Houthi-held areas in Yemen used to give harsh sentences to those accused of collaborating with the Saudi-led coalition. In September 2021, the rebels executed nine people who were convicted of involvement in the killing of a senior Houthi official, Saleh al-Samad, in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in April 2018.

Yemen was plunged into a devastating conflict when the Houthis descended from their northern stronghold in 2014, seizing Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forcing the government into exile.

A Saudi-led coalition including the United Arab Emirates intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognized government. The conflict has turned in recent years into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

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