Yemen government calls on Bahais to prosecute Houthi rebels for human rights violations

Bahai community calls for the immediate release of members held in Houthi captivity

epa05242653 A Yemeni soldier (R) keeps watch as Baha'i Faith members hold banners during a protest against the trial of member of the Baha'i Faith Hamed Haydara, outside the state security court in Sana?a, Yemen, 03 April 2016. According to reports, Yemeni authorities have indicted Hamed Haydara, a Yemeni national who was detained in December 2013 accused of being a spy for Israel and converting Muslims to the Baha'i Faith.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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Yemen’s internationally recognised government called on the Bahais on Thursday to prosecute the Houthi rebels for wrongfully imprisoning members of its religious community.

It comes a day after Mahdi Al Mashat, head of the Houthi political council, ordered the release of all Bahai prisoners, including leader Hamed bin Haydara, whose death sentence was upheld earlier this week by a court in Sanaa.

"The Bahai community must legally prosecute the Iranian-backed militia for the crimes they committed against members of their community," Mohammed Askar, Yemen's Human Rights Minister, told The National.

The rebels have used their suffering to advance their political gains, he said.

“After years of international and regional pressures, the Houthis decide overnight to release the members, this is their vicious tactic,” Mr Askar said.

It has taken six years of detention, torture, and denial of the most basic human rights, such as medicine and access to a private lawyer, and allowing them to perform their faith to get them released, the minister said.

The Bahai community called on Yemen's Houthi rebels to immediately implement the release of its members following the announcement of their pardon.

The decision was immediately welcomed by the Bahai community, which said in a statement that six of its members were “wrongfully imprisoned” for religious beliefs.

"We are encouraged that the Houthi authorities have agreed to release Mr Haydara and the other five imprisoned Bahais. We are hoping this action, long overdue, will signify an end to the persecution of the Bahais in Yemen generally," Anthony Vance, Director of the US Baha'i Office of Public Affairs, told The National.

Mr Haydara was sentenced to death for espionage and apostasy in 2018. He was detained in 2013, beaten, given electric shocks, and forced to sign documents while blindfolded, the Bahai community says. He was not allowed into Sunday’s hearing in the capital, Sanaa.

“All Bahais hope to contribute to the prosperity of the countries they live in. Yemen is no exception,” Mr Vance said.

The rebels must also lift the charges made in 2018 against about 20 members of the faith, he added.

The Bahai faith was founded in Iran in 1844 and considers itself a universal religion. The faith regards its 19th-century founder as a prophet and some Muslim countries, including Iran, consider it to be a heretical offshoot of Islam.

The Houthis are allied with Iran, which restricts the rights of Bahais, despite allowing freedom of religion for Christians and Zoroastrians.

"Like all other Yemeni citizens," the community said, "Bahais should be permitted to practice their faith freely, in keeping with the universal principles of freedom of religion or belief. The Bahais of Yemen have and will continue to contribute to the life of their country and their fellow citizens."

The US added the Houthis to a list of groups that breach religious freedoms last year.