LONDON: Yemen’s Houthi militia detained and disappeared 17 people belonging to the Baha’i faith in the capital Sanaa on May 25, Human Rights Watch reported.
The religious minority has faced significant persecution under Houthi rule, with the Baha’i International Community, the faith’s world body, saying its members were deliberately targeted in the raid.
The abductions took place during an annual meeting by Yemeni Baha’is to elect members to their national body.
The 17 people were joined by other attendees via Zoom, one of whom described the incident to HRW based on footage he witnessed and recorded in the video call.
About 15 minutes into the meeting, he said, a loud bang, which “sounded like a door being knocked in,” shook the room.
The attendees “looked frightened and stood up,” and were then met by four armed Houthis who had entered the room and forced everyone to sit.
“I heard screaming and crying voices in the background. I saw their faces … They were shocked and some of them automatically raised their hands,” he said.
One of the Houthis then closed the laptop in the room, ending the footage of the event. The Baha’i International Community said all 17 people present in the meeting were detained and transported away, with Houthi authorities refusing to respond to requests for information on their whereabouts.
Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at HRW, said: “Houthi authorities’ flagrant targeting of Baha’i solely on the basis of their religious beliefs is a clear violation of their human rights.
“They (the Houthis) should immediately reveal the condition and whereabouts of the detained Baha’i, release everyone detained solely for the peaceful religious practice, and respect the rights of all Yemenis to freedom of expression and belief.”
Ahmed Shaheed, the UN expert on freedom of religion, previously warned that the Houthis were engaging in a “persistent pattern of persecution” of Baha’is.
He noted that Abdel Malik Al-Houthi, the militia’s leader, had referred to Baha’is as “infidels” and “urged Yemenis to defend their country from the Baha’is and members of other religious minorities,” in a 2018 speech.
The raid on May 25 was the latest in a series of targeted attacks against Baha’is in Houthi-controlled areas across Yemen, HRW said.
In 2016, the militia raided a conference hosted by the faith in Sanaa and arrested more than 60 people.
Two years later, at least 22 Baha’is were charged with espionage and apostasy in a Houthi court, with the cases still remaining active.
The Baha’i member who spoke to HRW about the latest raid said many Yemenis of his faith were “forced to relocate to new houses, sometimes to new cities,” and that they have been forced to “keep a low profile.”
Jafarnia said: “The Houthis have systematically violated the rights of minorities in Yemen and show no sign of letting up on the pressure.
“The international community should stand in solidarity with the Baha’i community and exert pressure on the Houthi authorities to release the detained people immediately.”