At a Foreign Office briefing yesterday afternoon, relatives and legal representatives of the men were told that earlier reports that the men were fit and well were wrong. One had been hung upside down and beaten, while others were blindfolded and beaten.
Fears were expressed last night for the life of one of the prisoners, who was said to be yellow and exhausted and appeared to be drugged.
Lawyers acting for the men said that the families had now lost all faith in the British government's handling of the situation. "As far as we are concerned the response of the Government has been racist and Islamaphobic," said Rashad Yacoob, of the Association of Muslim Lawyers.
The men are Shahid Butt, 33, Malik Nassar Harhra, 26, and Samad Ahmed, 21, all of Birmingham; Ghulam Hussein, 25, of Luton, Bedfordshire; and Mohsin Ghalain, 18, of London.
John Brooke, of East Anglia, the oil worker kidnapped in Yemen on Friday, was meanwhile said to be fit and well. Mediation was under way to try and secure his early release. This latest incident was said to be part of a tribal dispute and had no direct link to the crisis involving 16 hostages last month. Scotland Yard investigations continue into the circumstances of the bungled rescue operation on 29 December, when three British and one Australian hostage were shot dead.
The Yemeni government has tried to justify the detention of the five British men. It has said that they were planning a bombing campaign in Aden. Diplomats were yesterday still trying to gain access to the fifth man, having seen the others. No formal charge has been made against any of them.
All the families deny that the men had any terrorist involvement, and insist that they were in Yemen to learn Arabic or visit relatives.
Tension surrounding that situation increased yesterday following a story in The Observer newspaper which suggested that the men were linked to a Muslim extremist group in London, called Supporters of Shariah (SOS). The article only quoted Yemeni government sources, and was condemned as "irresponsible" by representatives of the men's families.
The man alleged to run the group, Abu Hamza, denied that either he or the group had ever sent anyone to Yemen for terrorist purposes. He said SOS was an educational institute. It has been confirmed, however, that the Yemeni authorities are seeking another Briton in connection with the alleged bombing plot, Mohamed Mustafa Kamal - Mr Hamza's 17- year-old son.