The Yemeni Houthis, armed agents supported by the Islamic Republic, carried out an attack on a peaceful gathering of Baha'is in the city of Sana’a yesterday, detaining and disappearing 17 individuals including 5 women.
The assault took place on May 25 and the detainees’ whereabouts and wellbeing remain unknown. In a May 27 update, the Baha'i International Community also said they had "been alerted to other incidents suggesting that the raid may be the first of more attempts by security to target Baha’is across Houthi-controlled Yemen" and that details of these incidents were being withheld for security reasons.
The attack occurred as a group of Baha'is had gathered at a residence in Sana'a to elect the national governing body for the Yemeni Baha'i community.
BREAKING#Yemen: Armed #Houthi gunmen stormed a peaceful #Bahai annual general meeting in Sanaa today, after years of persecution, detaining at least 17 including 5 women. Other homes also raided.— Baha'i International Community (@BahaiBIC) May 25, 2023
Yemeni Baha’is on Zoom captured this video.
Details and our statement to follow. pic.twitter.com/CbMXsz3UY9
The Baha'i faith, which does not have a clerical hierarchy, holds annual meetings worldwide to select representative bodies responsible for administering the affairs of the Baha'i community in each country.
The Baha’i International Community (BIC) swiftly responded to the incident, issuing a statement demanding the immediate release of the detainees.
The BIC condemned the attack as a “brazen” and armed violation of freedom of religion or belief, as well as a breach of internationally recognized rights to gather and engage in religious and social activities.
Bani Dugal, the BIC’s Principal Representative to the United Nations, expressed concern over the incident, saying, "Across the Arab region we see governments striving to work toward peace, to set aside outdated social differences, promote peaceful coexistence, and to look to the future."
"But in Sana'a the de facto Houthi authorities are headed in the opposite direction, doubling down on the persecution of religious minorities, and staging brazen armed raids against peaceful and unarmed civilians,” Dugal added. "The Houthis have violated the human rights of Baha’is and many others, time and again, and it must stop."
“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,” she also said. “Yemeni Baha’is want to serve their country, to help it overcome its current challenges, and work towards advancing its peace and prosperity. How tragic that, at this propitious moment, the Houthi authorities choose to act in this shameful way.”
Dugal also called for the release of the detained Yemeni Baha’is, saying that "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 Baha’is arrested in this violent, unjustifiable raid."
The situation of Baha'is in Yemen
Approximately 2,000 followers of the Baha'i faith reside in Yemen, with their presence in the country spanning over a century. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war, the Yemeni government maintained relatively peaceful relations with the Baha’is, although in the years before the Houthis took power this did begin to erode.
The Baha'i community in North Yemen encountered significant challenges only during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. During this period, suspicions arose due to the religion's Iranian origins. However, the Yemeni authoriities eventually realized that the Baha'is had no connection to the Iranian government.
Following the civil war and the Houthi takeover of Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, with support from Iran, this armed group initiated a program of persecution against Yemeni Baha'is.
Since 2016, numerous Yemeni Baha'is have faced arbitrary arrests and imprisonment on fabricated charges, with some cases even resulting in death sentences handed down by biased courts.
During raids on the homes and workplaces of Baha'is, Houthi forces confiscated phones, property, and passports. Subsequently, they exerted pressure on relatives and friends of detained Baha'is, demanding ransom payments for their release.
The story of Hamed bin Haydara
The imprisonment of a prominent Yemeni Baha’i, Hamed bin Haydara in late 2013, even before the Houthi takeover of Sana’a, foreshadowed the pattern of persecution that Baha’is have faced since the 2014 Houthi takeover. This persecution has since escalated to become both legally sanctioned and systematic after the Houthis took power.
In December 2013, security agents arrested Haydara while he was working at his factory, and he subsequently vanished for nine months. He was taken to Sana'a prison, where he endured severe torture.
He was later forced to mark 16 blank pages with his fingerprints. The pages were later filled with false confessions fabricated by agents, such as baseless claims of being an Iranian spy involved in recruiting individuals to fight against the authorities.
Haydara was transferred after nine months to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) prison in Sana'a and officially charged with endangering national security. It was during this time that he managed to make his first phone call to his family and inform them that he was still alive.
Soon after, Houthi forces gained control of Sana'a, including the prison. Initially, the Houthis acknowledged that the allegations against him were unproven. However, Houthi officials subsequently leveled similar accusations against Haydara, except this time, he was accused of spying for Israel instead of Iran.
After the Houthis assumed power, Haydara was brought before the court multiple times, but each time the judge dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence. He remained incarcerated for four years until, finally, in January 2018, the judge issued a death sentence against him and confiscated his assets.
His legal team contested this verdict, and the hearings continued for another two years. In March 2020, the court upheld the death penalty. However, at the end of the same month, Mehdi al-Mashat, the head of the Houthi's Supreme Political Council, granted a pardon to all Baha'i prisoners.
In July, Haydara and five other Baha'i prisoners were abruptly taken to a United Nations plane at Sana'a International Airport and forcibly sent into exile. They were not given an opportunity to settle their affairs in the country or to retrieve their belongings.
Currently, these former prisoners reside in Luxembourg, where Haydara is receiving medical treatment for injuries sustained during torture that have affected his hearing and mobility.