Yemen’s Houthis finally release Bahai prisoners after international pressure

Men were wrongfully imprisoned on basis of beliefs and made to face baseless charges, Bahai community says

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 Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Thursday released six prominent members of the Bahai faith, officials told The National.

The move follows months of pressure from the international community after the rebels announced in March that they would release the prisoners from a prison in the capital Sanaa.

“The releases are a very encouraging first step," said Anthony Vance, director of the US Bahai Office of Public Affairs.

"We very much hope that the authorities will also drop all charges against all Bahaís in Yemen and work towards building a society in which all can practise their faith safely and freely."

The prisoners to be released are Bahai leader Hamed bin Haydara, Waleed Ayyash, Akram Ayyash, Kayvan Ghaderi, Badiullah Sanai and Wael Al Arieghie.

The community says they were wrongfully imprisoned for years on the basis of their beliefs and made to face baseless charges.

There have been concerns about the treatment of Bahai prisoners by the Houthis, who have controlled much of northern Yemen since they stormed Sanaa in 2014.

For years, human rights advocates have decried unlawful incarceration of the Bahais and have demanded the minority be granted the right to practise its faith freely.

“As Yemen’s search for durable, societal peace continues Bahais must be able, like all Yemenis, to practise their faith safely and freely, in keeping with the universal principles of freedom of religion or belief," said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Bahai International Community.

"This is not possible until the charges are lifted."

Ms Ala'i expressed gratitude to the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for their support.