Human Rights |

Yemen's Bahai fear further abuses under Houthis

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Shoppers throng a market in Sanaa, a city under Houthi control where the Bahai community has faced persecution. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The Bahai International Community recently raised concerns that Yemen's Bahai, a religious minority that has been systematically targeted by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), seems set to face further persecution.

In September, a Houthi prosecutor asked an appeals court to affirm a lower court’s decision to "immediately deport" Bahais from Yemen, ban their re-entry, and restrict them from expressing their religious beliefs.

"By such a ruling, he would target and threaten an entire religious community in Yemen, which wishes for nothing more than to contribute to its nation's progress," said Diane Alai, a representative of the community to the UN.

In a statement, she warned Yemen's Bahais could face "statelessness and expulsion, confiscation of assets and threat of extermination in the country".

In May 2017, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief warned an "escalation in the persistent pattern of persecution of the Bahai community in Sanaa mirrors the persecution suffered by the Bahais living in Iran".

"Many Yemeni Bahai families in Sanaa have left their homes and live in constant fear," human rights expert Ahmed Shaheed cautioned at the time.

The harassment against the Bahais amounts to religious persecution, he said, adding that "it is unacceptable for anyone, including persons belonging to religious minorities, to be targeted or discriminated based on religion or belief".

"The Houthi de facto authorities in Sanaa must stop summoning or arresting the Bahais and immediately release all Bahais arbitrarily detained," he said.

His statements came shortly after the authorities in Sanaa summoned 25 Bahais to appear in court, pressuring them to recant their faith, and followed an earlier roundup of the religious minority in 2016 in which 60 people were arrested.

Six Bahais continue to be detained in Sanaa, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Among them is Bahai community leader Hamid bin Haydara, who has been imprisoned since 2013 and whose death sentence an appeals court affirmed on September 17th.

This sparked renewed fears of mass expulsion within the Bahai community.

Solidarity with the Bahai

Though the Houthis have been persecuting Bahai communities in the areas under their control, the minority group has found support and solidarity from Yemeni government officials and human rights activists.

"The concerns of the Bahai community are factual and real," Yemen's Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

All humanitarian organisations ought to stand with them, he said, because they have been subjected to numerous abuses, including imprisonment, arbitrary arrest and religious-based trials by the Houthis.

Abdul Hafeez attributed the Houthis' actions to an ideology that "does not accept others" and to the class stratification the militia is trying to establish, in which "they classify themselves as masters".

Confiscating assets and property is the easiest way the Houthis can accumulate wealth, he noted, "through a court ruling issued by the militia against anyone who opposes it".

The Bahais' fears that their property will be confiscated and they will be expelled are real, he said, pointing out that the militia has a history of such behaviour.

The Bahai community in Yemen is not politically active and does not pose a threat to the Houthis or any other group, "so there is no real justification for the abuses committed against them by the Houthis", Abdul Hafeez said.

Yemen's Ministry of Human Rights has been working to stop the abuses to which Bahai community members have been subjected, he added.

The ministry "submits reports to relevant international organisations and demands that the UN exert pressure on the Houthis to put an end to these sham trials, since they are under the rule and control of an outlaw group", he said.

Violating human rights

The abuses against the Bahais are a "violation of the rights of this community to freedom of belief and expression", said Ishraq al-Maqtari, spokeswoman for the national commission assigned to investigate human rights abuses in Yemen.

Yemen is "a country of cultural, intellectual, religious and political diversity", where all groups are permitted to take part in their religious, political and social activities, she told Al-Mashareq.

In areas controlled by the Houthis, however, the militia serves as "a de facto authority that does not recognise human rights", she said.

The Houthis' actions against the Bahai community represent the "perpetration of intellectual and religious extremism, because it does not tolerate diversity, even though diversity is a hallmark of a civilised society", she said.

Al-Maqtari said the national commission has documented abuses committed against the Bahai community, and is investigating other allegations of abuse.

The Houthis are perpetrating "the most heinous injustice, oppression and tyranny against members of the Bahai community based on flimsy pretexts", human rights activist Abdullah al-Alafi, who is Bahai, told Al-Mashareq.

This mirrors the situation the minority group faces in Iran, he added, noting that Iran carried out large-scale arrests of members of the Bahai community in several areas of Shiraz in late October.

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