By The National
Global figures are calling on Yemen’s Houthi rebels to immediately release members of the Bahai community who are being held in prisons and are at high risk of contracting Covid-19.
The Iran-backed rebels announced in March that they would release Bahai leader Hamed bin Haydara and another five Bahai detainees, but they remain behind bars.
Since then rebels have ignored international calls to release the detained men.
“We join members of the International Religious Freedom Alliance in calling on the Houthis to follow through on their March announcement to release the six Bahai prisoners of conscience in their custody, particularly given the heightened risk posed by the spread of Covid-19,” Sam Brownback, the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, said on Twitter.
Mr Brownback’s call was reiterated by Jos Douma, the Netherland’s Special Envoy for religion and belief who said the detainees are at high risk of contracting the disease.
“I call on the Houthis to follow through on their March announcement to release the six Bahai prisoners of conscience in their custody, also given the risk posed by the spread of Covid-19 in Yemen,” Mr Douma said.
A member of the German Parliament, Heribert Hirte, and the UK’s special envoy for freedom of religion and belief, Rehman Chishti, also urged the Houthis to free the prisoners of conscience.
The Bahai community said last month that two detainees in Sanaa’s Central Prison, where the six Bahai are held, have been diagnosed with the virus.
Prisons in Sanaa are “hotbeds” for coronavirus outbreaks due to their unsanitary and abysmal conditions, Diane Ala’i, the Bahai International Community’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said in a statement last month.
“The six Bahais, who have been tortured and denied medical care for years, are like all the other prisoners in similar conditions: very vulnerable to the disease,” Ms Ala’i said.
Yemen has a devastated health care system due to years of war and humanitarian catastrophes. Reports indicate that the Houthis have denied the outbreak’s existence in areas under their control.
The country has recorded 1,190 infected cases of the disease and 318 deaths, but many say that the numbers are much higher.
Kamel Jendoubi, chairman of the UN’s Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, said “all persons detained in a manner contrary to international human rights and humanitarian law should be released immediately, including members of the Bahai community, and those subject to an order of release granted by judicial authorities, such as journalists”.
There have been concerns about the treatment of Bahai prisoners by the rebels, who have controlled much of northern Yemen and the capital, Sanaa, since the country’s civil war started in 2014.
For years, human rights advocates have decried what they say is unlawful incarceration of the Bahais and have demanded the minority be granted the right to practise its faith freely.
The monotheistic Bahai religion was founded in 1844 by a Persian nobleman, considered a prophet by his followers.