The Growing Tide of Violent Rhetoric Against Baha’is in Houthi Yemen

The Growing Tide of Violent Rhetoric Against Baha’is in Houthi Yemen

Yemen’s Houthis incite violence against Baha’is on social media.  

On March 23, Yemen’s Houthi leader Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi made a speech in which he called the Baha’i faith a “satanic” movement that wished to “wage war” against Islam.

On the same day of Al-Houthi’s speech, Houthi activist Ahmed Ayed published a tweet stating “we will butcher every Baha’i.”

Twenty different media outlets also reiterated Al-Houthi’s rhetoric.

To find out more about how these violent threats have impacted Yemeni Baha’is, I spoke with two of them.

Pre-Houthi Persecution

One man I interviewed, who remained anonymous, said that Yemen’s persecution of Baha’is began in 2008, six years before the Houthi uprising, when Sanaa authorities arrested six Baha’is based on false information that they were working with the Iranian government.

In 2013, a Baha’i man named Hamed Haydara (Haydara was sentenced to death earlier this year) was arrested in Sanaa. My source said that the arrest took place prior to the Houthi takeover, and was also due to false information being spread about Baha’is.

When I asked my source what it was like to grow up as a Baha’i in Yemen, he said that for the most part, Yemenis were respectful of his religion. He said, however, that when he returned to Yemen from studying abroad in the late nineties, he began to see “traces of systematic indoctrination of religious prejudice.” This, he said, resulted in the Ansar Allah movement, also known as the Houthis, which overthrew the original Sunni government in 2014.

Conspiracy Theories and False Accusations

Similarly to the Iranian regime, Yemen’s Houthi government frequently disseminates lies about Baha’is in order to defame them.

In April, Houthi media produced this video claiming that Baha’is sought to corrupt Islam.

One Baha’i man named Abdullah Al Oulofy said that Houthis often persecute Yemeni non-Baha’i activists, as well as international humanitarian organizations, that defend Baha’is.

Without providing specific names due to safety necessities, Oulofy said:

“There are many activists who defend the Baha’is rights and they informed me that they will not be able to write anymore about the Baha’is because they received a direct threat from some security authorities that they will be arrested if they don’t stop.”

The Houthis have also been holding workshops training Yemenis on “how to respond to the war of doctrine waged by the Baha’is.”

Here is the video for the first episode.

Oulofy said that in the video, the commentator accuses Baha’is of “collaborating with the aggression because they call for surrendering and peace and are against jihad.”

A State of Desperation

 Both of the Baha’is I interviewed told me that many Yemeni Baha’is have not been able to settle down in one house because they fear persecution by authorities.

The anonymous Baha’i man said that he and his wife and children are currently living in “temporary accommodation” after their homes and offices had been ransacked. The man said that he and his wife have both been arrested in the past.

Anonymous expressed his dismay that despite the service of Yemeni Baha’is to their society, they are being persecuted. He said:

“Looking back at the lives of the many Baha’is who loved and sincerely served Yemen and their fellow country men and women, the spirit of service that permeated them was reflected in the type of professions undertaken by them, whether in opening the first pharmacy in Sanaa or in giving medical care in the remotest of regions or by planning the different towns and cities in the country. All they had was genuine concern for the wellbeing of their fellow man. How blind would be the authorities to overlook all of this and only focus on hate derived from religious prejudice.”

Tara is a journalist and campaigner based in San Francisco, US

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