Gunfire and Arrests Taint Baha’i Holy Celebrations in Yemen


October 25, 2017

Contact: James Samimi Farr
Office: (202) 833-8990, Email: USBahaiMedia@usbnc.org

WASHINGTON — This weekend and the days that followed have marked a period of supreme sacredness and festivity for members of the Baha’i Faith. The bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the faith’s founder, occurred on October 22, with commemorations occurring across America and the world. Yet, the arrest of another Baha’i in Yemen struck a somber note as the global Baha’i community continued it celebrations.

Here in the United States, the 200th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s birth was celebrated in hundreds of localities with large events, small meals among friends, community service, and artistic expressions.

These sentiments were echoed in thousands of Baha’i communities worldwide, from small islands in the Pacific to large European metropolises. Public declarations noting the significance of Baha’u’llah’s birth were issued by the Canadian, UK, Australian, and Indian Prime Ministers, along with several other notable figures.

In Sana’a, Yemen, however, these celebrations were tainted by a brewing campaign of religious violence and persecution and against the Baha’is. Houthi security forces raided a small gathering of Baha’is and their friends who were celebrating the bicentenary in a family home, breaking down the door with an armored vehicle and opening fire on the small group of friends. Houthis authorities arrested Mr. Akram Ayyash, a local Baha’i.

The Baha’is in Yemen have been facing severe persecution since August 2016, when local Houthi authorities abducted over 60 people, about half of whom were Baha’is, including six children, at an educational event for youth sponsored by the Baha’i community. Eight Baha’is are currently incarcerated in the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, including Mr. Ayyash’s brother Walid Ayyash, a respected local community leader. Many have faced inadequate medical care, interrogation, and other harsh conditions.

Their crime is membership in the peaceful and nonpartisan Baha’i community, a crime shared by 5 million other Baha’is worldwide.

The attack on the Baha’is is ominous for several reasons. At the broadest level, it reflects the ongoing social instability in Yemen, which has been called “the forgotten war.” However, at a more furtive level, it confirms the role the Iranian regime is playing in Yemen’s unrest. Baha’is remain heavily persecuted by the government in Iran, with 19 people arrested in the country over the past weekend, and there are at least 95 Baha’is currently in prison there.

“We have it confirmed from several reliable local sources,” said Anthony Vance, Director of Public Affairs for the Baha’is of the United States, “that Iran’s backing of Houthi militias is playing a direct role in the persecution of the Bahai’s, as the Iranian government encourages Houthi authorities to crack down on Baha’is.”

These recent threats against the Baha’is in Yemen and Iran have prompted renewed international concern, with a United Nations resolution, introduced by Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group and adopted by consensus by the Human Rights Council, calling for the release of all Baha’i detainees in Yemen.

Senator John McCain, moreover, stated that he was “deeply disturbed to learn about the recent arrests [of] members of the Baha’i Faith community in Iran, just days before their holy celebrations.”

On Wednesday evening, American celebrations for the Baha’i bicentenary concluded in Washington, D.C., with a national event attended by members of Congress, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, and numerous other dignitaries. And although the event reflected the happiness of the occasion, Baha’is who attended were sobered at the thought of the ongoing threats to their co-religonists in Yemen.

“It is deeply troubling that, while we celebrate here tonight,” Mr. Vance said, “our fellow believers in Yemen and Iran remain prisoners of conscience, without freedom to practice their faith.”

“And how much more disturbing,” Mr. Vance continued, “that these latest rounds of persecution should occur on this most sacred and joyful occasion.”

For more information about religious persecution and the rights of the Baha’is in Yemen and Iran, please contact the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs at 202-833-8990, or visit publicaffairs.bahai.us.