US group denounces Yemeni rebels’ prosecution of Baha’is

CAIRO (AP) — The U.S. commission on international religious freedom has denounced Yemen’s Shiite rebels for charging 24 Baha’is, including women and a teenager, with espionage and apostasy.

According to a statement Monday by the USCIRF, a court in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, controlled by the Houthi rebels, charged the Baha’is on Sep. 15 and put them on trial for apostasy and espionage, which carry the death penalty.

“This persecution on the basis of religious identity is unconscionable and must stop immediately,” said Tenzin Dorjee, USCIRF chairman, urging for the “unconditional release and dropping of all charges” against the Baha’is.

Abdallah el-Olfi, a spokesman for the Baha’i community in Yemen, said only five of the defendants are in custody while the rest are being tried in absentia.

The prosecutors have not offered any evidence to support their claims, el-Olfi said Tuesday. The next court session in the case is on Nov. 10.

El-Olfi was himself detained for three days earlier this month, USCIRF said.

Yemeni Baha’is have faced a surge in arrests, raids on their homes and offices, and forced closures of their community organizations since 2017, USCIRF said.

The commission also decried the death sentence against a top Baha’i figure on charges of collaboration with Israel. Hamid bin Haydara was arrested in December 2013 and sentenced this January. Dorjee said the USCIRF calls on the Houthis to annul the death sentence against bin Haydara.

The Houthis, who have occupied northern Yemen since 2014, have waged an all-out campaign against political and religious opponents, holding thousands in detention. They are also at war with a Saudi-led coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government to power.

Minority Baha’is observe a monotheistic religion founded in the 1860s by Baha’u’llah, a Persian nobleman considered their prophet.

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