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Yemen's Houthis detain 17 members of Bahai minority, Human Rights Watch says

The abductions and disappearance took place during an annual gathering to elect the Bahai governing body
Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans during a gathering in the capital Sanaa, on 2 February 2017 (AFP)

Yemen’s Houthi forces stormed a private residence in Sanaa, Yemen, and detained and disappeared 17 people belonging to the Bahai faith on 25 May, Human Rights Watch reported (HRW).

The Bahai, a religious community and minority group in Yemen, make up just one percent of the country's non-Muslim population and have faced ongoing persecution by the Houthis.

The abductions took place during an annual gathering to elect the group's national governing body. There were 17 people there, while others joined remotely on Zoom. 

About 15 minutes into the meeting and after introductions had taken place, there was a loud bang and it felt like a “door being knocked in”, a witness told HRW. There was also shouting in the background. 

The man told HRW that four armed men “wearing Houthi uniforms” stormed in, pushed people further into the room, and barred them from leaving. 

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“I heard screaming and crying voices in the background. I saw their faces… they were shocked and some of them automatically raised their hands,” he said. 

Eventually, all 17 people were detained and driven away with their whereabouts still unknown.

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“The Houthis have systematically violated the rights of minorities in Yemen and show no sign of letting up on the pressure,” Niku Jafarnia, the Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch said.

“The international community should stand in solidarity with the Bahai community and exert pressure on the Houthi authorities to release the detained people immediately.”

According to HRW, the Houthis have arrested and disappeared members of the community before. In 2016, the Houthis raided a Bahai educational conference in Sanaa and arrested men, women, and children. In February 2020, 24 members of the Bahai community had a court hearing in what the international Bahai community denounced as "a religiously-motivated sham trial". 

In July 2020, six prominent members of the Bahai community in Yemen, including their leader in the war-ravaged country, were released from prison.

The Bahai International Community (BIC), a group representing the faith with five offices around the world, had called for the charges - which mostly include accusations of apostasy and espionage - to be dropped.

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