Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the international community to “exert pressure” on the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen to release 17 Baha’is who were “forcibly disappeared" last week.
The New York-based human rights group said in a statement on May 30 that the religious minority has faced “persecution” by the Houthis, the de facto authorities in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and much of Yemen.
“Houthi authorities’ flagrant targeting of Baha’is solely on the basis of their religious beliefs is a clear violation of their human rights,” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at HRW.
“They should immediately reveal the condition and whereabouts of the detained Baha’is, release everyone detained solely for the peaceful religious practice, and respect the rights of all Yemenis to freedom of expression and belief.”
On May 25, armed Houthi forces stormed a private residence in Sana’a where Yemeni Baha'is people had gathered to elect the national governing body for the Yemeni Baha'i community, according to the Baha'i International Community, which represents members of the faith worldwide.
Seventeen Yemeni Baha'is were detained and driven away. The de facto Houthi authorities have not responded to the victims’ families’ requests for information on the whereabouts of their loved ones.
“The Houthis have systematically violated the rights of minorities in Yemen and show no sign of letting up on the pressure,” Jafarnia said.
“The international community should stand in solidarity with the Baha’i community and exert pressure on the Houthi authorities to release the detained people immediately,” he added.
According to HRW, Houthis have “systematically arrested and disappeared” followers of the Baha'i faith and “forced them into exile.”
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 in 2014, the Yemeni government maintained relatively peaceful relations with the Baha’is, although in the years before the Houthis took power in much of the country this began to erode.