Houthis abduct Baha’i spokesman in Ye­men amid fears for mi­nor­ity group

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The spokesman for Ye­men’s Baha’i re­li­gious mi­nor­ity was de­tained by Iran-backed Houthis, a rel­a­tive said. The fam­ily mem­ber told The Na­tional that Ab­dul­lah Al Ay­olofi was head­ing to the mar­ket in Sanaa on Thurs­day when he was ap­proached by gun­men in a white Toy­ota Hilux, who seized him and his brother-in-law and bun­dled them into the ve­hi­cle.

The Houthis “blind­folded them and took them to the main Houthi prison in the Na­tional Se­cu­rity head­quar­ters in Sanaa”, said the rel­a­tive.

“Be­fore they ar­rived, they threw his brother-in-law out the car be­cause Mr Al Ay­olofi begged them not to take him.”

The ar­rest comes days af­ter UN hu­man rights ex­perts called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of 24 peo­ple, mostly from the Baha’i com­mu­nity, be­ing held in Sanaa since the mid­dle of last month.

The five ex­perts said that the charges “must be dropped and dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices based on reli­gion out­lawed”.

Those held face charges of apos­tasy, teach­ing the Baha’i faith and spy­ing – a charge that car­ries the death penalty.

At least 22 of those be­ing held are Baha’is, in­clud­ing eight women and one mi­nor. They were tried on Septem­ber 15 without warn­ing.

“We are very con­cerned at the crim­i­nal prose­cu­tion of these per­sons based on charges con­nected to their reli­gion or be­lief,” the ex­perts said.

“We are par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that some of the con­vic­tions in­clude crimes that carry the death penalty. We re­it­er­ate our call to the de facto au­thor­i­ties in Sanaa to put an im­me­di­ate stop on the per­se­cu­tion of Baha’is in Ye­men.”

Mr Al Ay­olofi on Wed­nes­day told The Na­tional said that in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on the Houthis should not pre­vent the re­lease of the in­no­cent Baha’i peo­ple.

The spokesman said Houthis were ex­ploit­ing their con­trol over the coun­try’s courts to ex­ter­mi­nate the Baha’is in Ye­men, us­ing fab­ri­cated and un­fair charges such as claims that the Baha’i com­mu­nity is a Zion­ist move­ment driven by Is­rael and the US.

The ar­rest of Mr Al Ay­olofi was widely con­demned by hu­man rights groups, who called for his im­me­di­ate re­lease.

“This lat­est ar­rest is ex­tremely wor­ry­ing con­sid­er­ing the re­cent in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of per­se­cu­tion against the Baha’i com­mu­nity in Ye­men,” said Diane Alai, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Baha’i In­ter­na­tional Com­mu­nity to the UN.

Rasha Jarhum, the di­rec­tor of hu­man rights group Peace Track Ini­tia­tive based in Canada, tweeted: “I just re­ceived dis­turb­ing news of the forced dis­ap­pear­ance of Al Ay­olofi in Sanaa to­day by Houthis.

“I call for his im­me­di­ate re­lease. Those bar­baric acts must stop.”

Reuters

Ab­dul­lah Al Ay­olofi, spokesman for the Baha’i com­mu­nity in Ye­men, at a state se­cu­rity court in Sanaa in 2016

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