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The Fate of Yemen’s Baha’is

It is common these days to read headlines such as “At least 19 killed, 10 injured in Saudi-led coalition air raid in Yemen” (Sputnik, October 24, 2018). We are reminded often how many Yemenis have died and are starving. But it is not common to learn that the Houthis, the Islamic extremist group who are fighting the Saudis, are persecuting the minority of Baha’is currently living and working in Yemen. In fact, the Left seldom turns its eyes to the on-going persecution of Baha’is in Iran and other places in the Islamic world. How often do you hear, for instance, that Baha’is are not even permitted to attend post-secondary institutions in Iran?

The Houthi regime believes that Baha’is are fighting a “Satanic war” against Muslim Yemenis. In the last five years, in particular, spiteful rhetoric has intensified. This enflamed language has reminded Baha’is of the horrible fate many faced in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian theocratic revolution. Since December 3, 2013 Hamed bin Haydara, a Baha’i leader, has been imprisoned, indicted for apostasy and accused of “being a destroyer of Islam.”

The National Security Office raided his home and seized laptops and documents. Reports indicate that he has been tortured (beaten and electrocuted). The history of the torture of Baha’is since the mid-19thcentury is like visiting a haunted house of horrors. He has also been denied legal and medical assistance.

In October 2014, Hamed was transferred to the Central Prison under the jurisdiction of the Prosecution Service. But the process of prosecution has been delayed. He was accused of being a spy for Israel; medical requests were repeatedly blocked; his prosecutor was extremely prejudiced against Hamed; he had been forced to sign several documents while blindfolded and repeated torture. On April 3, 2016, his sixth visit of the year, 100 supporters gathered peacefully outside the court. By mid-September of 2016, it was plainly evident that a faction within the Houthi political movement was under the influence of Iran. Hatred of Baha’is runs deep in Iran, and they pushed the Houthi faction to persecute the Yemeni Baha’is.

On January 10, 2017,  a hearing took place with a new prosecutor present. Hamed bin Haydara was, this time around, permitted to answer questions and his lawyer presented documents to confirm his Yemeni nationality. After this meeting, the old Yemeni tacticians cancelled meetings and judges mysteriously were absent. By January 2, 2018, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a, Yemen, sentenced Haydara to death due to his religious beliefs. This was a devastating blow to the Baha’i international and local communities. Under the false pretext that Haydara had been in communication with the Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Baha’s, his property was confiscated. But that was not all: all Baha’i Assemblies had to be disbanded (like the situation in Iran in the 1980s); and his execution was to be a public event. Now the Yemeni Baha’is were leaderless, fearful of further persecution.

These acts of radical violation of human rights and respect for the dignity of others caught the eye of the world. But on September 30, 2018 another sham trial occurred, with 20 Baha’is in Yemen accused falsely for espionage and apostasy.  The judge also requested that the names of 19 others (who had been arrested) be published in a newspaper. This act was designed to send rivers of fear coursing through the Baha’I community.

The judge, Abdu Ismail Hassan Rajeh, who had little trouble sending Baha’is to the gallows, froze the indicted Baha’is properties until a court verdict was issued. The judge also refused bail to five who were in the court.  On October 11, just one day after a group of UN experts condemned charges brought against more than 20 Baha’is in Yemen, Abdullah Al Olofi, member of the Baha’i community in Yemen, was on his way to the market in Sana’a when suddenly he was surrounded by armed soldiers in a pick-up truck, blindfolded and taken away.

“This latest arrest is extremely worrying considering the recent intensification of persecutions against the Baha’i community in Yemen, “ said Diane Alai, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. A UN resolution called for the release of all Baha’is detained for their religious beliefs and to cease harassment.

But the hatred of Yemeni Baha’is runs deep. In a televised speech broadcast in March 2018 to a wide audience within and outside of Yemen earlier this year, Abdel Malik al Houthi, condemned and scorned the Baha’i Faith. Indeed, the nasty language of Malik al Houthi was reminiscent of the inflamed rhetoric of the Supreme Leader of Iran. Malik al Houthi warned Yemenis of the “satanic” Baha’i movement that is “waging a war of doctrine” against Islam. Baha’is were infidels, deniers of Islam and the Prophet Muhammed;  they were entangled politically with Israel. He declared: “Those who destroy the faith of people are no less evil and dangerous than those who kill people with their bombs.”

The leader of the oppressive Houthi regime urged his followers to engage in religious and cultural warfare against all Yemeni religious minorities (Christians, Baha’is, Ahmadi Muslims). In particular, Houthi clerics have alerted their followers about the dangerous presence of Baha’is. One prominent activist declared that “We will butcher all Baha’is.”  This is not the first time Baha’is have heard these terrifying words.

Sources: Baha’I International Community letters, January 18, 2018, September 26, 2018, October 12, 2018);  Iran Press Watch, October 4, 2018; The Globe Post, September 18, 2018.

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Dr. Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry.

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