Houthi authorities in Yemen continue to detain several members of the Baha’i religious minority group despite a senior Houthi leader having ordered their release in March. The detainees are being held solely because of their religion and include Hamad Kamal Haydara, who was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2018.
The March 25 public statement by Mahdi al-Mashat, president of the Houthi-run Supreme Political Council, did not specify the number of the detainees to be released. However, several sources told Human Rights Watch that the release order included Haydara and at least five other people. The Houthi armed group has controlled the capital, Sanaa, and much of Yemen’s northwest since September 2014.
The Yemeni Initiative to Defend Baha’is (YIDB), the only human rights group defending Baha'is' rights in Yemen, said in a recent statement that unidentified Houthi officials have blocked al-Mashat’s order from being carried out. The group alleges that the Houthi-controlled Specialized Criminal Court in Sanaa has demanded conditions – including collateral payments known as “commercial guarantees” – to carry out the release. But even after the detainees' families submitted these guarantees, the court did not free the Baha’i detainees.
Several United Nations human rights experts, including the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and human rights groups have denounced the delay and called for the detainees’ immediate release.
With the increasing spread of Covid-19 in Yemen and appalling conditions in detention facilities throughout the country, the health risks to the Baha’i and other detainees are acute. Media reports indicating that Houthi authorities may be covering up a spike in Covid-19 cases in areas under their control lend even more urgency to their plight. The Houthi authorities should act on their orders and avoid health risks to people who should never have been jailed by releasing the Baha’i detainees immediately.