Houthis endangering the lives of Baha’i prisoners during coronavirus pandemic

Houthis endangering the lives of Baha’i prisoners during coronavirus pandemic

Arabic translation

Sana'a, Yemen. (photo cred: britannica.com)
Sana'a, Yemen. (photo cred: britannica.com)
Geneva—31 May 2020

Yemen’s Houthi authorities are needlessly risking the lives of six innocent Baha’i prisoners of conscience despite indications that the disease has spread to prisons in Sana’a and widespread warnings from the UN that the coronavirus is “multiplying fast” through Yemen.

Two months have passed since the president of the Supreme Political Council in Sana’a ordered the release of six detained Baha’is. During this time, the coronavirus has started to sweep through Yemen as the six Baha’is remain behind bars. Just days ago, sources in Sana’a indicated that two detainees in the Central Prison have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

“The Baha’i International Community is deeply alarmed that Mr. Mahdi al-Mashat’s order, issued on 25 March, has not been implemented by judiciary and security authorities who have not yet released the six Baha’is,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“The prisons are hotbeds for coronavirus outbreaks due to their unsanitary and abysmal conditions and the six Baha’is, who have been tortured and denied medical care for years, are like all the other prisoners in similar conditions, very vulnerable to disease, which is already making its way through prisons in Sana’a. Holding these individuals in prison carries grave health risks and even death. It is inexplicable and irresponsible,” she added.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has appealed for prisoners of conscience around the world to be released to protect prisoners from the risk of infection in prisons. 

A group of UN human rights experts have also called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the six Baha’is held in Yemen. The Special Envoy for Yemen, as well as officials from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, a Canadian senator and the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, have also appealed to the Houthi authorities to release the Baha’is without delay. The cases have also been covered by media outlets such as Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post, Asharq al-Awsat and the Toronto Star.

The Baha’is in prison are Mr. Hamed bin Haydara, who was arrested in 2013, and five others arrested in 2017—Mr. Waleed Ayyash, Mr. Akram Ayyash, Mr. Kayvan Ghaderi, Mr. Wael al-Arieghie and Mr. Badiullah Sana’i. Each was unjustly detained and interrogated, and in some cases physically tortured, before being accused of false crimes and tried without access to lawyers. Mr. Sana’i, meanwhile, is over 70 years old.

The poor health of the prisoners mean that, as coronavirus puts prison populations at risk because of deficient medical care, the Baha’is are especially vulnerable.

“The situation is increasingly critical. We have a real fear for the health and lives of the six jailed Baha’is,” Ms. Ala’i said. “Fresh international pressure on the Houthis is one of the last remaining hopes for securing the release of the Baha’is before it is too late.”