Experts Call for Release of Bahá’í Prisoners, End to Persecution in Yemen

In a letter addressed to Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebel group, 19 academics, regional experts, and civil society leaders called for the release of Bahá’í prisoners held by Houthi forces in Yemen and urged al-Houthi to end the persecution of the group. The letter states:

“In the context of a country that has been ravaged by violent conflict in recent years and is now facing the threat of starvation and epidemic, the oppression of an innocent, peaceful, and service-oriented community of a few thousand members is not only cruel and unjust but also bewildering. The ongoing efforts to arrest and harass Bahá’ís are of no benefit to your country and only serve to tear at the fabric of your society.”

Signatories include Executive Director of the American Islamic Congress Zainab al-Suwaij; former U.S. Ambassador Jerry Feierstein; and former Chairman of the Board at Amnesty International USA Winston Nagan; among a number of others.

International rights bodies have strongly criticized the targeting of the Bahá’í community in Yemen. In May 2017, Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, condemned the persecution of the community, stating, “The Houthi de facto authorities in Sana’a must stop summoning or arresting the Bahá’ís and immediately release all Bahá’ís arbitrarily detained.” Similarly, Human Rights Watch has criticized the Houthi’s targeting of Bahá’ís, saying, “Arresting someone on the basis of their religious beliefs or compelling them to give up those beliefs as a condition of release is an abuse of the right to freedom of religion. If they want to show their commitment to basic rights, the Houthis should allow Yemen’s Bahá’í community to practice their beliefs.”

The full text of the letter is available below. Click here for a PDF.

August 22, 2017

Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi
Leader of the Ansar Allah

Dear Sheik Abdul-Malik,

We are deeply concerned about the intensifying persecution of Yemen’s Bahá’í community.

The Bahá’ís in Yemen have been subject to sporadic incidents of oppression in years past, including a 2008 episode in which six Bahá’ís were arrested and two were deported on baseless charges. In addition, a Bahá’í father of three has been imprisoned in Sana’a since December of 2013, and he has been subjected to abuse and torture in prison and denied any semblance of due process. Over the last year, the persecution of Bahá’ís has escalated precipitously.

In August of 2016, armed soldiers descended on an educational event in Sana’a, which was organized by the Yemeni Bahá’í community and sponsored by a registered local civil society organization, arresting over 60 men, women, and children in a raid befitting an attack on the headquarters of a militant group. Over 30 Bahá’ís were detained and subsequently released, except for one who remains in prison. In April and May of 2017, dozens of Yemeni Bahá’ís were targeted for arrest, and five more Bahá’ís were ultimately detained. At present, there are seven Bahá’ís imprisoned for their faith in the areas of Yemen under Houthi control, with many more facing the prospect of imminent arrest. Moreover, Bahá’ís have been receiving intimidating phone calls and threats to their safety, and many Bahá’í families in Sana’a have fled their homes in recent weeks in order to avoid being unjustly detained. All of these individuals have been targeted solely on the basis of their religion.

In light of the increasing repression, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief issued a statement denouncing the treatment of the Bahá’í community in Yemen, saying that its “persistent pattern” mirrors the persecution suffered by the Bahá’ís in Iran. Indeed, several sources of information inside Yemen have stated that Iran has urged Houthi authorities to persecute the Bahá’ís. The UN Special Envoy to the country expressed concern for the Bahá’ís in his recent briefing to the Security Council. Amnesty International has also registered its concern, denouncing the clear violations of Yemen’s obligations under international law. In addition, a number of tribal leaders, along with activists and supporters from civil society, have protested the unjust detentions, holding a peaceful demonstration on May 15 and subsequently authoring a public statement on the matter (available in English here). On June 6, the Yemeni Initiative for Defending Bahá’í Rights, based in Sana’a, issued a statement (available in English here), condemning what they describe as “systematic sectarian oppression and persecution against the Yemeni citizens belonging to the Bahá’í Faith.”

Mr. al-Houthi, in the context of a country that has been ravaged by violent conflict in recent years and is now facing the threat of starvation and epidemic, the oppression of an innocent, peaceful, and service-oriented community of a few thousand members is not only cruel and unjust but also bewildering. The ongoing efforts to arrest and harass Bahá’ís are of no benefit to your country and only serve to tear at the fabric of your society.

We urge you to immediately release all Bahá’í prisoners and cease the persecution of Bahá’ís and other minorities in Yemen.

Sincerely,

Zainab Al-Suwaij
Co-Founder and Executive Director
American Islamic Congress

Colin Christopher
Director
Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America

Salam Al-Marayati
President
Muslim Public Affairs Council

Mustafa Akhwand
Executive Director
Shia Rights Watch

Jihad Turk
President
Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School

Jerry Feierstein
Director of the Center for Gulf Affairs
Middle East Institute
Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, 2010-2013

William McCants
Director
Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
Brookings Institution

Winston Nagan
Former Chairman of the Board
Amnesty International USA

Abdullahi An-Na’im
Professor of Law
Emory University

May A. Rihani
Director, The George and Lisa Zakhem
Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace
University of Maryland

Reza Afshari
Professor Emeritus of History
Pace University

Nesreen Akhtarkhavari
Associate Professor of Arabic
DePaul University

Roy Mottahedeh
Professor of History
Harvard University

Zackery Heern
Assistant Professor of History
Idaho State University

Franklin Lewis
Associate Professor of Persian Language and Literature
University of Chicago

Mina Yazdani
Associate Professor of History
Eastern Kentucky University

Sholeh Quinn
Associate Professor of History
University of California, Merced

Negar Mottahedeh
Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Literature
Duke University

Omid Ghaemmaghami
Assistant Professor of Arabic and Near Eastern Studies
The State University of New York at Binghamton