Iran-backed Houthis push Baha’is out of Yemen
SANAA – The Baha’i community risks totally disappearing from Yemen, as it is specifically targeted with persecution by the Iran-backed Houthi militias.
Things are getting worse for this minority as Iran-backed Houthis, which control the capital Sana’a and other regions, are forcing an increasing number of Baha’i community members into exile.
The exact number of Yemen’s Baha’is, whose presence in the country dates back two centuries, is unknown. However, in February 2015, Human Rights Watch quoted representatives of the Baha’i International Community confirming that there were 1,000 members of the minority in Yemen.
Since taking control of Sana’a in 2014, Houthi militants have arrested followers of the Baha’i faith due to their beliefs, according to several international human rights organisations. While the Houthis have announced the release from prison of some Baha’is, multiple sources said they had only been freed after agreeing to leave Yemen as soon as possible.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein al-Ezzi confirmed that some Baha’is had been released, without providing specific numbers. The Baha’i International Community, which claims to represent global followers of the faith, said in a statement that six had been freed.
Yemeni human rights activists have expressed fear that the crackdown on Baha’is will increase in the future, ultimately leading to the deportation of all members of their community from their own country.
Commenting on the news confirming the exile of the released Baha’is, Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani said that the Houthi deportation of six Baha’is, including Hamed bin Haydara, leader of the country’s Baha’i community, constitues a crime of forced exile that should be internationally condemned.
Yemeni Deputy Human Rights Minister Majed Fadhil also said the Baha’is were victims of a crime, noting that members of the community had been kidnapped from their homes, had their money and property confiscated, been kept in detention centres for years and been subject to some of the worst forms of psychological and physical torture.
British ambassador to Yemen Michael Aaron wrote on Twitter: “The Baha’is in Yemen have suffered because of their belief… This must stop.” He then called on the Houthis to release Baha’i detainees and allow the community to practice their religion and live freely in the country.
For some Yemeni experts, the Houthis’ release of several Baha’is is a tactical ploy aimed simply at securing political gains. Yemeni diplomat and political writer Yassin Said Numan said that with the pandemic threatening Yemen, the Houthis announced their compliance with the United Nations secretary-general’s call to stop all violations. In doing so, they received the approval of the secretary-general without committing to any concrete action. For cover, they released some Baha’is from prison.
Over the past six years, Yemen’s Baha’i have been frequent victims of harassment and persecution by the Houthis.
The Houthis’ hostility to the religious minority is a reflection of their political, intellectual and ideological subordination to Iran, which accuses the Baha’i community of apostasy and prohibits their activities under the pretext that they are spies working for Israel.
A group of Baha’is were arrested in 2018 on charges of apostasy and espionage. The Baha’i International Community quoted one of those who underwent a trial after he was made aware by a public prosecutor “that he was being detained because of his religious belief.”
Houthi gunmen also previously stormed the building of an affiliate institute of the Baha’i community in Sana’a, arresting dozens who were participating in a cultural event, including women and children.
“The Baha’is detained in Sana’a are innocent, and the physical and psychological torture they are subjected to was designed to make them confess to crimes they did not commit,” said Bani Dugal, a representative of the Baha’i International Community.
Yemen’s Baha’is have long warned of the Houthis’ crimes, calling on international bodies and institutes to help provide protection. They have repeatedly warned that the Houthis are violating their rights and that other Islamist forces in the country are attacking them through local media outlets.