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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Yemen government condemn Houthi trials of persecuted Baha'i minority 

Yemen's vulnerable minority group fears for members detained under rebels

Baha'i members hold flowers during a protest against the trial of member of the Baha'i Faith Hamed Haydara, outside the state security court in Sanaa. EPA
Baha'i members hold flowers during a protest against the trial of member of the Baha'i Faith Hamed Haydara, outside the state security court in Sanaa. EPA

Yemeni government and community have condemned Houthi show trial of a persecuted Yemeni religious minority after a surprise hearing convicted 24 people who could now face the death penalty.

Over 100 Baha’is, including six prominent members, being held by the rebels have been tried on charges the minority says are false. Despite a recent request by the government for the Bahai to be released, they remain in detention.

Since the request, the Houthis have accelerated criminal charges against the detainees with a surprise hearing on New Year's Day.

Among those appearing in court for an unexpected appeal hearing on Tuesday was Hamed bin Haydara, a prominent Baha'i leader who has been sentenced to death.

"The abrupt hearing was held on Tuesday under pressure by the rebels in Sanaa to hinder the UN prisoner exchange deal. It was held without any prior notice for Mr Haydara and his lawyer,” Abdullah Al Olofi, a Baha'i spokesman in Sanaa, told The National.

UN Human rights representatives have called for the Houthis to overturn the death sentence handed to Mr Haydara in January 2018, who was arrested shortly after the rebel group took over Sanaa. The Baha'i community say he is in poor health.

The internationally-recognised government of Yemen included the names of 131 Baha'is on a list presented as part of confidence-building prisoner exchange deal agreed at UN-led talks in Sweden last month, but the Houthis are yet to respond despite approving hundreds of other releases.

Each side submitted 8,000 names of people they believe are detained, dead or missing for the other side to locate and release.

“The rebels say the Baha'is that are detained are criminals but such claims are absolutely untrue, their cases are based on religious discrimination," spokesman Mr Al Olofi said.

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Violence against the minority group has become more common over the last three years, with both the UN and British government calling for a halt to the persecution.

“The Houthis think that if they execute two or three Baha'is then Bahaism will disappear, but that won't happen, the violence cannot wipe out any movement or minority,” said Mr Al Olofi.

"We hope that the Houthis listen to the international community, I believe that there are some Houthi leaders who are wise, but our problem is with the Houthi groups that are linked to Iran.

“No victory will be achieved unless it be a victory for the humanity not for weapons and rockets, without social justice, freedom, diversity and paying respect for the human rights the country will not live in peace," said Mr Al Olofi.

Yemen’s Ministry of Human Rights has issued a number of statements urging the international community to stop the militias from abducting and arresting Baha'is. They urged instead for the release of members of the group as well as all other detainees, Yemen's Deputy Human Rights Minister Majed Fadhil told The National.

“The militias have tortured over 1,000 detainees, out of them are 131 Baha'is, even though Yemen has ratified the International Convention against Torture and the Conviction on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations to War Crime and Crimes Against Humanity,” Mr Fadhil said.

The government has submitted names of the abducted Baha'is to the Houthis, but the rebels have yet to respond, Mr Fadhil said.

"The Houthis are an extremist terror group that does not believe in coexistence, they threaten social peace and human rights and pay no attention to the calls that are being made against their violations of international laws,” the deputy minister said.

"We reiterate our call to the international community and the five members of the UN Security Council to exercise their duties, in light of the prisoner exchange agreement, to press for the release of all prisoners and detainees," added Mr Fadhil.

Nearly 2,000 Baha'is live in Yemen, with most of them based in Houthi-held Sanaa. Prior to the rebel coup in 2014, the vulnerable community coexisted in peace with other factions of Yemen’s society.

After, the rebels launched a campaign against the Baha'is and accused them of espionage, fuelling hatred towards them.

The Baha'i religion is opposed by Houthi backers in Tehran – and while Iran grants freedom of religion to several minorities, it targets the Baha'is, who believe in unity among religions and equality between men and women.

The group is seen as one of the most persecuted religious minority in the world, particularly in Iran where the state has confiscated property, universities bar addition and places of worship and burial have been closed or demolished. The 150-year old belief prides itself on being a universal religion that embraces kindness and peace. It's notable for promoting values of women's empowerment and universal religious tolerance. There are an estimated 6 million followers in 235 countries around the world.

Updated: January 3, 2019 11:59 AM

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