Crime & Justice

Houthis stalling on release of Bahai prisoners

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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Hamed bin Haydara, a Yemeni Bahai who has been imprisoned since 2013, was sentenced to public execution in January 2018 by the Houthis, and later pardoned. He has yet to be released. [Photo courtesy of Bahai World News Service]

Months after the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) agreed to release Bahai leader Hamid bin Haydara, along with other imprisoned members of the community, no real steps have been taken to secure their release.

This shows the militia does not honour its commitments, observers told Al-Mashareq.

On March 25th, head of the Houthis' so-called Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat, announced the Houthis would pardon and release the Bahai prisoners.

The pardon came just days after the Houthi-run Court of Appeals in Sanaa upheld a death sentence handed down against Haydara in January 2018.

Local and international organisations, including Amnesty International, had called on the Houthis to overturn the death sentence against Haydara and to release all Bahai prisoners detained for their religious beliefs.

The religious minority has faced systematic persecution under the Houthis.

Haydara was arrested in December 2013 at his place of work on religious grounds and subjected to torture and psychological abuse. He has been denied access to medical treatment and visits, including from his wife and daughters.

'Just empty words'

It is not clear why the Houthis have not yet released Haydara or the other detained Bahai, months after the pardon and release was announced, said Abdullah al-Olafi, spokesman for the Bahai community in Yemen.

"The Houthis are stalling and promising to release them without taking real steps," he told Al-Mashareq.

"There are efforts being made by international organisations and appeals issued by a number of European foreign ministers calling on the Houthis to do what they announced they would do," al-Olafi said.

But the continued detention of the Bahai, three months after their sentences were overturned, shows the Houthis' pardon and release decision were "just empty words", said Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani.

"The militia does not honour its commitments," he said in a statement.

The Houthis' abducted the Bahai from their homes, subjected them to the worst forms of psychological and physical torture, and issued death sentences against them for their religious beliefs, he said.

These actions are flagrant violations of international law and can be classified as crimes against humanity, he added.

Al-Eryani called on the international community, UN Security Council and human rights groups to take a clear position on the matter, issue an explicit condemnation, and put a stop to these types of crimes and abuses.

Failure to honour agreements

"The Houthis' failure to honour their commitments and the decision to release the Bahais is typical behaviour for them," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

"The Houthis did not abide by the Kuwait agreement, the Stockholm agreement or any other agreement, and they never will," he said.

"Iran is directing a regional agenda and uses the Houthis to implement it," he said. "They are very happy with this role because they are war makers and want to continue to play this role."

The Houthis accept their role as a tool of Iran because it "adds to their bank accounts and so they feel that they are not losing anything", Abdul Hafeez said.

"The Houthis will not abide by any agreement, be it related to the humanitarian, legal or any other aspect," he added, calling on the UN Security Council to "force them to stop their crimes to put an end to this tragedy".

Houthis' trials lack legitimacy

"The Houthis have subjected all who oppose their aims to illegal trials that lack transparency and justice," said lawyer and human rights activist Hoda al-Sarari.

"Given the unconstitutionality of the Houthis’ authority, these trials and judicial decisions are invalid, because they are issued by an illegal authority that does not comprehend the minimum standards of justice," she told Al-Mashareq.

The fact that the Houthis have not honoured the decision to release Haydara and other members of the Bahai community confirms they are "not sincere or well-intentioned in what they announce", al-Sarari said.

Pressure exerted on the Houthis by international organisations and the Bahai community outside Yemen "compelled the Houthis to issue the pardon decision, but they soon reneged", she added.

The way the Houthis deal with the Bahai "mimics how Iran deals with the same community, and that is because they have the same religious referential authority and same rituals," she said.

"The Houthis are no less criminal than Iran in this regard."

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