The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) on Thursday (July 30th) released six members of the Bahai faith, whose years of imprisonment had raised international concern, and immediately sent them into exile.
Community leader Hamed bin Haydara, who had been detained since 2013 and sentenced to death, was released along with five others, who were deported on the same day on a UN-provided plane from Sanaa airport, Yemeni officials said.
Yemen's Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani condemned Houthis' decision to deport the six Bahais as a crime against humanity.
The six had on March 25th received a pardon from Mahdi al-Mashat, head of the Houthis' political office, but had not been released from prison.
Al-Eryani described the deportation of the six Bahai as a crime of forced exile.
"The crime of exiling them is as heinous as the crime of kidnapping them from their homes and detaining them for years at prisons where they were subjected to different forms of psychological and physical torture," he said.
He noted that the Houthis also had confiscated their assets.
The Houthis' deportation of Bahais from their country "is a crime against humanity and a blatant violation of international laws and charters", he said.
It violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and "reflects the level of restriction practiced against citizens based on their religious beliefs in Houthi-controlled areas", he said.
Al-Eryani urged the international community, the UN and human rights organisations to condemn the "dangerous precedent" and pressure Houthis to stop such actions.
No legal basis for Houthis' action
The Houthis' deportation decision has no legal basis, Yemen's Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.
He said his ministry would play its role in reinstating the rights of the six Bahais and ensuring they are returned to their homeland.
"The Houthis have deported the Bahais in order to seize their assets," he said. "They have delayed their release for more than six months to do exactly that."
The Bahai community on Thursday thanked UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for securing the release of the six Bahais, AFP reported.
But it said the six were still seeking the return of seized assets and properties and the end of all charges against them.
"As Yemen's search for durable, societal peace continues, Bahais must be able -- like all Yemenis -- to practice their faith safely and freely, in keeping with the universal principles of freedom of religion or belief," said Diane Alai, representative of the Bahai International Community at the UN in Geneva.
"This is not possible until the charges are lifted," she said.