Yemen's Houthi rebels raid Bahai gathering in Sanaa

At least 17 members of religious minority arrested in what they say is an example of persecution

Members of the Baha'i faith hold flowers as they demonstrate outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow Baha'i man charged with seeking to establish a base for the community in Yemen, in the country's capital Sanaa April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah - GF10000369865
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Yemen's Houthi rebels arrested at least 17 people from a gathering of Bahais in the capital Sanaa on Thursday, representatives of the religious minority said.

Followers of the Bahai faith have reported mounting discrimination since the Iran-backed rebels seized Sanaa and other areas of Yemen in late 2014, including arbitrary detention, torture and seizure of their assets.

There has been no word on the whereabouts of those arrested on Thursday, who include five women, the Bahai International Community said.

Nader Al Sakkaf, an official at the office of public affairs of the Bahais of Yemen, said members had gathered to elect the community’s national governing body intended to minister to the spiritual and material needs of the group.

“The gunmen, who reportedly were part of the Houthi security forces, interrogated the attendees and confiscated books, laptops and other belongings,” Mr Al Sakkaf told The National.

He called for the immediate release of those arrested and said the incident was a clear indication of the persecution the Bahai community had endured from the Houthis.

“The attack is a clear violation of the freedom of religion or belief and the right, under international covenants, to gather and conduct their religious and community affairs,” he said.

“The de facto Houthi authorities in Sanaa are going backward, doubling down on persecuting religious minorities, even as elsewhere in the Arab region we see governments striving toward peace and setting aside outdated social differences.

“The Houthis have violated the human rights of Bahais and many others, time and again, and it must stop.”

The Bahai faith originated in Iran in the 19th century and advocates universal peace and acceptance of all religions as manifestations of one deity.

Many of Yemen's 2,000 Bahai members live in Sanaa, which was taken by Houthi rebels from the internationally recognised government in 2014.

Since then, the group has faced persecution by the militants, often on unsubstantiated charges of communicating with Israel.

“Even while talks are under way to end the war in Yemen, we see the Houthi authorities continuing to engage in violent acts of persecution against their own people,” said Bani Dugal, the Bahai International Community's representative to the UN.

“The international community must now use its leverage to compel the Houthis to respect the human rights of all Yemeni citizens, starting with the release of these 17 or more innocent Bahais arrested in this violent, unjustifiable raid.”

Updated: May 26, 2023, 1:23 PM