Human Rights

Houthis violating rights of Bahai, other vulnerable minority groups

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Houthi courts on August 22nd have resumed their trial against Bahai leader Hamid bin Haydara as a fugitive from justice, even though he was released from Houthi prisons and expelled from Yemen on July 30th. [Photo via USCIRF]

Through six years of war, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have continued to violate the rights of religious minorities and socially vulnerable groups in Yemen, officials and human rights activists say.

Marginalised groups, internally displaced persons, migrants, refugees, people with special needs, and religious and social minorities face ongoing discrimination in Yemen, and their risk of exploitation and physical abuse is exacerbated by the dire conditions in the country, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) said in its latest report.

The GEE expressed grave concern over the fact that "the parties to the conflict continued to target human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists to repress dissent and curtail criticism".

"Women human rights defenders also continue to face repression by all parties on the basis of their gender and/or their work on women's rights," the report said.

"Religious minorities continue to face particular barriers to the enjoyment of their rights," it added.

"The continuation of the conflict, with its attendant breakdown of public order, has aggravated the already precarious situation of minorities, internally displaced persons, migrants and refugees in Yemen," the GEE report said.

It concluded that "all of these groups continue to be discriminated against in their enjoyment of rights, and face a heightened level of violations and abuse".

Persecution of Bahai minority

The report pointed to the "situation of the Bahais detained in Sanaa on the basis of their religious faith, in particular highlighting their arbitrary arrest, torture and denial of due process in court proceedings", which resulted in the issuance of a death sentence for Bahai leader Hamid bin Haydara and others with him.

The head of the Houthis' so-called Supreme Political Council issued a pardon for Haydara on March 25th and requested that the concerned authorities release all Bahai prisoners.

Months passed before the Bahai detainees were released and expelled from Yemen on July 30th.

The Houthi court on August 22nd resumed its trials against the Bahais as fugitives from justice, and the court proceedings are still continuing.

Abdullah al-Olafi, spokesman for the Bahai community in Yemen, told Al-Mashareq he was surprised the trials are continuing despite the pardon issued by the highest authority in Houthi-controlled areas of the country.

Al-Olafi called for "closing the case and granting Bahais their right to equal citizenship and the right to express and practice their religious rites".

Houthis wage war against all Yemenis

The Houthis violate the rights of religious minorities and socially vulnerable groups "because it is a violent group and cannot disseminate its ideology by peaceful means", said lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Berman.

"Yemeni society rejects the ideas of the Iran-backed Houthis and sees them as extremist, deviant, violent and destructive," he told Al-Mashareq.

The Houthis' treatment of vulnerable groups who do not have a voice exposes their true nature, Berman said, giving the example of the Al-Aman Association for Blind Women Care, which the Houthis stormed, looted and shut down after they took control of Sanaa.

"Then they went after orphanages and sent the orphans to the fronts," he said.

The militia tops the list of violators of the rights of religious minorities, he said, noting that it engages in hostile behaviour toward Bahais and followers of other religious sects "because it is the same approach and tactic used by Iran, which oppresses Sunnis, Bahais and Ahwazi Arabs".

"The Houthi group is mimicking that approach."

The Houthis are "an armed gang that does not believe in anyone who differs from it and does not care about human rights and humanitarian issues", said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

"Nor does it make decisions," he told Al-Mashareq, "because Iran controls the group's decision making process and manages it directly through military experts from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hizbullah."

"The fact that the Bahais were released while their trials are continuing is proof of that," he said.

These trials "have no legal basis and the Houthis aim to use them to seize control of [the detainees'] cash assets, confiscate their property and at the same time garner international goodwill for releasing them even though their trial is still continuing," Abdul Hafeez said.

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