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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Rights group hits out at Houthi prosecutions of Baha'i in Yemen

Since taking control of Sanaa, Iran-backed rebels have singled out this religious minority for persecution

Baha’i in Yemen, pictured here campaigning, face a crackdown by Houthi rebels in Sanaa who accuse the minority of being atheists and spies for Israel. Handouts
Baha’i in Yemen, pictured here campaigning, face a crackdown by Houthi rebels in Sanaa who accuse the minority of being atheists and spies for Israel. Handouts

Rights groups have spoken out after a Yemen court under Houthi control began prosecuting 24 Baha’i, accusing them of atheism and of spying for Israel and the United States.

The Specialised Criminal Court in the capital Sanaa began proceedings on Saturday against members of the religious minority, including nine women, said Abdullah Al Oulofy, the spokesman for the community in Yemen.

The group, which originated in Iran in the 19th century, advocates universal peace and acceptance of all religions as manifestations of one God. Although there are an estimated six million Baha’i worldwide, there are thought to be only 2,000 in Yemen.

Since the Houthis took control of Yemen’s capital in 2014, the rebel group – which follows a branch of Shia Islam – has systematically persecuted the minority.

"We have been living in our country for thousands of years. While more than four presidents ruled it, no one discriminated [against] us or caused any trouble for us,” Mr Al Oulofy said. “We were practising our own beliefs freely and we had our own headquarters and foundations under the time of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.”

In 2016, six Baha'i, including well-known activist Waleed Ayash, were detained. “We still don't know about their whereabouts,” Mr Al Oulofy said.

Baha’i leader Hamed Haydara was sentenced to death in January by the Sanaa’s court on unsubstantiated charges of communicating with Israel.

In March, Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi urged his loyalists to attack Yemen’s Baha'i, calling the minority group “a devilish plant sowed by Israel”.

Mr Al Oulofy said: "The situation of the Baha’i minority in Sanaa has been aggravated this year. Families of the minority have been prosecuted and the prosecutions began to include the Baha’i women."

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One Baha’i follower in Sanaa who spoke to The National anonymously said members of the community were keeping a low profile. “All types of discrimination are being practised against us. They chase us wherever we go and they place spies to keep eyes on our moves."

Many Baha’i families left Yemen and hundreds of others fled Sanaa to safer areas in the south. Some of those who remained were fired from their jobs, the Baha’i follower said.

Amnesty International called for an end to the prosecutions.

"Houthi authorities must end their persecution of the Baha’i community and respect their right to freedom of religion – a right that is enshrined in Yemen's own constitution and international law," said the group’s Yemen researcher Rasha Mohamed.

The United States previously expressed concern about the harassment and detention of Baha’i by the Houthis. In March, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “The Houthis have targeted the Baha'i community in inflammatory speech along with a wave of detentions, ‘court summons,’ and punishment without a fair or transparent legal process.”