Houthis abduct Baha’i spokesman in Yemen amid fears for minority group
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.”
Abdullah Al Ayolofi, spokesman for the Baha’i community in Yemen, at a state security court in Sanaa in 2016