The arrests of Intisar al-Hammadi, 20, and three other women in February – as well as the proceedings against them – have been widely criticized by international rights groups.
The case has exposed widespread repression of women in war-torn Yemen in areas controlled by rebels, known as Houthis.
The verdicts were handed down on Sunday, said lawyer Khaled al-Kamal, who represents all four women. Like al-Hammadi, one in three other women received a five-year term; The other two were sentenced to one and three years in prison, respectively. Al-Kamal said he would appeal against the sentence.
Human Rights Watch has said the trial was “affected by irregularities and abuses”.
The New York-based rights group said in June that rebels confiscated al-Hammadi’s phone and that “photos of her modeling were considered indecent.” The Houthis even called her a “prostitute,” HRW said.
“This sentence is inappropriate and politically motivated,” tweeted Afra Nasser, a Yemeni researcher at Human Rights Watch.
There were no details about what the allegation of “drug possession” referred to.
HRW said that since their arrest, the women have been lodged in a prison run by the rebels, where guards also abused al-Hammadi.
In Yemen, which has been embroiled in civil war since 2015, women who dare to protest, or even enter the public sphere, have become targets in a swift crackdown by the Houthis. In April, women activists and former detainees told The Associated Press a network of secret detention facilities where they are tortured and sometimes raped.
Al-Hammadi, born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, has worked as a model for four years and starred in two Yemeni soap operas in 2020. She was the sole breadwinner for her four-member family, which included her blind father and a disabled brother.
HRW also said the Houthis had previously offered to release al-Hammadi if she would help him use “sex and drugs” to entrap his enemies – the internationally recognized government of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. A clear reference to the support the coalition led.
Dozens of Yemeni public figures condemned the verdict against al-Hammadi and his associates, calling their trial “politically motivated”.
Moammar al-Iriani, the information minister of the internationally recognized government, urged the international community, including the United Nations and the United States, to pressure the Houthis to free the four.
The conflict in Yemen has killed more than 130,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.