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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Houthis arrest Baha'i spokesman in Yemen   

The arrest comes amid months-long crackdown on vulnerable minority 

Houthi militiamen stand guard during a rally calling for the end of deteriorating economic crisis in Sana. EPA
Houthi militiamen stand guard during a rally calling for the end of deteriorating economic crisis in Sana. EPA

The spokesman for Yemen's Baha'i religious minority in Yemen was detained by Iran-backed Houthis, a relative of Abdullah Yahia Al Ayolofi told The National.

According to the family member Mr Al Ayolofi was on his way to the market on Thursday in Sanaa when he was approached by gunmen in a white Toyota Hilux, arrested and taken with his brother-in-law.

The Houthi fighters "blindfolded [them and took them] in the car to the main Houthi prison in the National Security headquarter in Sanaa," said the spokesman's relative, who asked to remain anonymous. "Before they arrived to the prison, they threw his brother-in-law out the car because [Mr Al Ayolofi] begged them not to take him because he had no fault."

The arrest comes days after a group of UN independent human rights experts called for the immediate release of 24 people, mostly from the Baha'i community, being held by authorities in Sanaa since mid-September.

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Read more:

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The five UN experts said that charges “must be dropped and discriminatory practices based on religion, outlawed”.

The detainees face charges of apostasy, teaching the Baha'i faith and spying; the latter, is subject to the death penalty.

At least 22 of those being held are Baha'is, including eight women and one minor. The individuals were prosecuted on 15 September without investigation or warning prior to the start of the trials.

“We are very concerned at the criminal prosecution of these persons based on charges connected to their religion or belief.” Referring to charges of espionage, they added, “we are particularly concerned that some of the convictions include crimes that carry the death penalty.”

“We reiterate our call to the de facto authorities in Sanaa to put an immediate stop on the persecution of Baha’is in Yemen,” the UN experts said.

In an interview with The National on Wednesday Mr Al Ayolofi said that international pressure on the Houthis in the civil war should not prevent the release of the innocent people of the Baha’i minority.

The spokesman said Houthi members were exploiting their control over the country's judicial institutions to exterminate the Baha'is in Yemen, using fabricated and unfair charged, such as alleging that the Baha's community is a Zionist movement driven by Israel and the US.

The arrest of Mr Mr Al Ayolofi was widely condemned by human rights groups who called for his immediate release.

"This latest arrest is extremely worrying considering the recent intensification of persecutions against the Baha’i community in Yemen,” said Diane Alai, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

"I just received disturbing news of the forced disappearance of Al Ayolofi in Sanaa today by Houthis, I call for his immediate release. Those barbaric acts must stop," Rasha Jarhum, the director of human rights group Peace Track Initiative based in Canada, tweeted.