The persecution of the Baha’i community in Yemen has markedly increased and resembles the state-sanctioned mistreatment of the minority group inside Iran, according to the latest reports by the United Nations and human rights organizations. “The recent escalation in the persistent pattern of persecution of the Bahá’í community in Sana’a mirrors the persecution suffered by the Bahá’ís living in Iran,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, on May 22. “Many Yemeni Bahá’í families in Sana’a have left their homes and live in constant fear,” he lamented. “The Houthi de facto authorities in Sana’a must stop summoning or arresting the Bahá’ís and immediately release all Bahá’ís arbitrarily detained,” he stressed. “They must also start an inquiry into the disappearances of Mr. Ayyash and Mr. Humaid, and provide details of the investigation.”
Walid Ayyash and Mahmood Humaid, two members of the Yemeni Baha'i minority, were reportedly arrested by security agents and their whereabouts are unknown. The U.N. rights official’s warning came after the Sana’a authorities summoned at least 30 Baha'i to court and issued arrest warrants for more than two dozen other Baha'is in an effort to pressure them to leave their faith. Other reports suggest Houthi officials also see Baha'is as security threat.
The U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs (OPA), a D.C.-based rights group, says several Bahá’ís are currently incarcerated in Yemen’s Houthi-controlled regions. “All of these individuals have been arrested and detained solely because they are Baha’is, in a campaign of religiously-motivated persecution influenced by Iran,” the organization in a May 30 statement.
In April, Amnesty International also about harassment and persecution of the Bahá’ís in Yemen and called on the Houthi-Saleh authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release members of the community being detained on the grounds of their religious belief and peaceful activism.
Comment: The extent of Iran’s influence and role in the persecution of the Baha’i community in Yemen is unknown. But the Baha’i representation at the United Nations accuses the Islamic Republic of encouraging and instructing Houthi officials to crack down on the Yemeni Baha’is. “Iranian involvement in the persecution of the Baha’is in Yemen is consistent with a general policy aimed at dealing with ‘The Baha’i Question’ as outlined in a once secret 1991 government memorandum.”
The Houthi rebel movement, a predominantly Shiite group backed by Iran, toppled the Yemeni government in 2014 and controls the capital city of Sana’a.
The Baha'i community in Iran is arguably the most persecuted minority group in the country. The Islamic Republic does not recognize the Baha’i faith and the community has been subjected to state discrimination and persecution since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Despite President Hassan Rouhani’s repeated pledges to guarantee the rights of Iranian ethnic and religious minorities, the situation of the Baha’i community has not improved. Asma Jahangir, the U.N. special rapporteur for Iran, the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this year that Iran continued to arbitrarily detain Baha’i believers solely because of their religious beliefs and practices. "Bahai’s continue to be systematically discriminated, targeted, and deprived of the right to a livelihood,” she said in her March 6 report. Jahangir added that 90 Baha’i believers were currently detained in Iran’s prison.