Frozen accounts and ransacked homes: How Houthis have looted Yemen’s Baha’i

Akram Abdul Rahman

Since the Houthi group seized power in 2014, it has systematically targeted Yemen’s Baha’i minority, raiding homes, stealing their charitable donations, and freezing their bank accounts.

“The confiscation of our property was part of our radical uprooting,” said Rouhiya as she described how the Houthi movement has looted Baha’i homes and properties across Yemen.

“Imagine your belongings, like photos and school certificates, and the most beautiful moments of your life, which you lived with your children, family, friends and neighbors, being taken away from you.”

Rouhiya, an educational researcher in her late 30s, is one of the Baha’i whose property was confiscated, forcing her to leave Yemen to settle in Holland.  Since the Houthi group seized power in Sanaa in late 2014, the Baha’i minority has been almost systematically targeted, with their properties confiscated and well-known personalities prosecuted. 

The most famous of the trials was against Hamid Haydara, a Baha’i activist who was sentenced to death in 2018. While Baha’i were targeted before the Houthi seized control, persecution has escalated under their occupation.

Nader Al-Saqqaf, a Yemeni Baha’i who works in the field of medical drugs, told reporters about the losses he and other Yemeni Baha’i have suffered. “Even our cemeteries have been seized, and their sanctities have been violated,” he said.

Rouhiya said that raids against Baha’i meant authorities confiscating property titles under the pretext of reviewing them, then never returning them. She described national security agencies shutting down Baha’i-owned homes, offices, and institutions, then, a few days later, sending in security personnel dressed as civilians or thugs to loot them.

“Even our cemeteries have been seized, their sanctity desecrated,” said Nader Al-Saqqaf. “This is all part of the systematic persecution that we Baha’i have been subjected to since the Houthis took control of Sanaa in late 2014.” 

Al-Saqqaf and his brother were arrested for the first time in 2015 after attending a session of the trial of Haydara, who was arrested at his workplace in December 2013 and sentenced to death in early 2018 on charges of collaborating with Israel. The Houthis later announced his pardon, but it wasn’t until July 2020 that Haydara was released, following international mediation.

The armed movement has arrested many other Baha’i, among them Haydara, Al-Saqqaf and his brother, Al-Saqqaf’s wife, and Rouhiya and her husband Nadim. All were later released.

“One of the most important reasons for these violations against us is to seize our property and money,” Al-Saqqaf said. 

Rouhiya said the Houthi authorities never returned any property they confiscated. She told reporters that during her arrest, an officer claimed she would recover all her belongings, including the cheap pen in her bag. Until today, she hasn’t seen that pen – or her kitchen utensils, solar panels, or any of the rest of her stolen belongings.

According to human rights activist Radhya al-Mutawakel, Yemeni Baha’is face numerous human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and unfair trials. Dozens have fled the country, leaving behind homes and possessions.

Frozen bank accounts

The persecution of the Baha’i goes beyond opportunistic looting.  Abdullah Al-Olofi, spokesperson of the Baha’i in Yemen, told reporters that over 100 Baha’i and those perceived to have ties to the Baha’i had their bank accounts frozen and were blacklisted by Yemen’s Central Bank.

This came after an order from Yemen’s National Security, forwarded to the Central Bank through the judicial guard without a court order.

Al-Olofi said the Houthis also confiscated $53,000 from the Baha’i community’s zakat, the collective charity pool to help their most vulnerable. He demanded the Houthis return the money, or at least give a receipt. They didn’t.

Among those blacklisted was a young girl, Sarah, (a pseudonym) who set up a project to sell clothes via WhatsApp. Sarah’s account at the well-known Al-Kuraimi Bank was suspended because her name was on the list, even though she isn’t Baha’i and had simply attended ceremonies and activities.

Now her project, which supported her family, is suspended and Sarah struggles with accumulating debt. 

“The judicial guard has no right to freeze or confiscate any property without a court order,” said lawyer Khaled Al-Kamal.  

Changing promises, unchanged reality

In March 2020, the Houthi movement appeared to soften its face. In a speech marking the fifth anniversary of what the group calls “steadfastness in the face of US-Saudi aggression,” Mahdi al-Mashat, head of its Supreme Political Council, ordered the release of all Baha’i prisoners and pardoned Haydara. 

That pardon came three days after a verdict on Haydara’s appeal, which confirmed his execution and the confiscation of his property. Haydara would remain in prison until July 2020.

Al-Saqqaf told reporters that 24 Baha’i are still being tried in absentia in Sana’a on charges related to their faith. Haydara’s death sentence had been based on the same charges.

The trials are a scare tactic adopted by the Houthis to pressure Baha’i in Yemen, said Al-Saqqaf, who said he was concerned that those being tried now could also be condemned to death. Other scare tactics include the financial blacklist, and restrictions on Baha’i opening bank accounts or receiving money transfers through an exchange.

Al-Mutawakil, the human rights activist, said that Baha’i being persecuted over their faith violates international law, and the Houthi’s intolerance has forced dozens to flee.

What the Houthis are now doing amounts to systematic persecution with the aim of genocide, said Rouhiya. It starts as “bullying and intimidating children in school,” she said, but leads to theft of property, and “threatening and killing their fathers and mothers.”

The writer reached out to the Houthi authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a comment on the accusations made in this report, yet did not receive a reply before publication.

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