US condemns Houthi raid on Yemen’s Bahai community

Houthi forces detained 17 community members during recent gathering

epa05242647 Baha'i Faith members hold flowers 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 *** Local Caption *** 52682110
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The US ambassador to Yemen on Wednesday condemned the recent raid by Houthi rebels in Sanaa that resulted in the “forced disappearance” of 17 members of the city's Bahai community.

“We stand with the people of Yemen and their right to freedom of religion, expression and association," Steven Fagin said in a statement.

On May 25, masked gunmen raided a Bahai community member's home, where followers had gathered to elect a national governing body intended to help oversee the group's spiritual and material needs in Yemen.

“A large group of gunmen staged a violent raid,” said Nader Al Sakkaf, an official at Yemen's Office of Public Affairs of the Bahais.

The Houthi security forces interrogated those present, confiscating laptops and other personal belongings, Mr Al Sakkaf said.

They arrested 17 community members, including five women. According to Mr Al Sakkaf, their whereabouts remain unknown.

The French embassy in Yemen called for the “immediate release” of the Bahai community members and called their detention a “flagrant attack on freedom of thought and religious freedom”.

Members of the faith have experienced increased discrimination ranging from arbitrary detention to torture and the seizure of assets in Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

Houthi rebels took over the capital in 2014, beginning a nearly decade-long civil war that continues to simmer.

“This is not an isolated incident because this is just an escalation of the systematic persecution that the Bahai community in Yemen is facing from the Houthis,” Mr Al Sakkaf told The National.

The Bahai faith was founded in Iran during the 19th century. It advocates universal peace and acceptance of all religions.

Today the faith’s headquarters are located in Haifa, Israel, and it has about eight million followers worldwide.

According to Mr Al Sakkaf, the community in Yemen numbers between 2,000 and 4,000.

Many of Yemen's Bahais live in Sanaa, which was seized by the Houthis from the internationally recognised government in 2014.

Updated: May 31, 2023, 6:38 PM