The spokesman for the beleaguered Baha’i community in Yemen has been arrested as part of the Houthi rebels’ latest crackdown on the religious minority.
The Baha’i faith is a small monotheistic religion which began in Persia in the 1800s and now faces widespread persecution by Iran and its allies across the Middle East.
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The Houthi rebels, who control Yemen’s capital Sana’a and are backed by Iran, have arrested dozens of Baha’i since 2016 and sentenced several of them to death.
Abdullah al-Olofi, a Baha’i spokesman, was on his way to the market in Sana’a on Thursday when he was surrounded by troops who pulled up in two pick up troops, according to Baha’i Community in the UK. He was reportedly arrested, blindfolded, and led away.
Last month, the Houthis brought espionage charges against 24 Baha’i, including eight women and a teenage girl. The group could face execution if convicted.
A panel of UN experts this week called for the charges to be dropped and said the Houthis must end their campaign against the Baha’i.
Apostasy and spying charges brought against 24 people in #Yemen, mostly from the #Bahai minority, must be dropped and discriminatory practices based on religion or belief should be outlawed — UN #HumanRights experts.
➡️ https://t.co/Ri3o2mMVDi pic.twitter.com/1KpEJ3wZEe
— UN Special Procedures (@UN_SPExperts) October 10, 2018
“We are very concerned at the criminal prosecution of these persons based on charges connected to their religion or belief. We are particularly concerned that some of the charges include crimes that carry the death penalty,” the UN experts said in a statement.
“We reiterate our call to the de facto authorities in Sana’a to put an immediate stop to the persistent persecution of Baha’is in Yemen and to release those arrested due to their religion or belief.”
The Baha’i believed that the Houthi persecution is being carried out at the behest of Iran, which has a long history of discriminating against the Baha’i.
Iran’s theocratic regime considers the Baha’i heretics and are especially suspicious of the group because their headquarters are in Israel.
“This latest arrest is extremely worrying considering the recent intensification of persecutions against the Baha’i community in Yemen,” said Diane Alai, the Baha’i representative to the United Nations.
“We have every reason to be concerned for the safety of the Baha’i community as a result and call upon the Houthi authorities in Sana’a to immediately cease the targeting of Yemeni citizens due to their religious beliefs.”