Christians in Yemen have become the latest targets of the Iran-backed Houthi militias’ oppression. Jews and Baha’is have long been oppressed by the militias.
Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that priest Musheer Khulaidi, 50, has been held by the militias’ intelligence detention center for four years.
The numbers of Jews in Yemen have been dwindling with the Houthis insisting on deporting the last two remaining families from Sanaa. The militias have already expelled the leaders of the Baha’i sect, while 19 others are standing trial in spite of an amnesty they received last year following four years of trials.
Sources in Sanaa told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis have specifically been targeting Yemeni Christians, arresting several, including Khulaidi, who has been tortured in jail. Houthi intelligence has also been investigating other figures to determine their religious beliefs.
The majority of Yemeni Christians have already fled the country.
Prisoners, who were recently released from Houthi intelligence detention centers, and friends of Christians revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis have been cracking down on Yemenis whom they suspect of being Christian.
Khulaidi’s family has refused to comment on the priest’s case, fearing he will be further tortured and abused.
Some of his relatives have fled from Houthi-held regions and left Yemen altogether. Others have moved to regions falling under the control of the legitimate government, sources said.
One of the released prisoners told Asharq Al-Awsat that he became acquainted with the priest while he was in detention. He also revealed that he met others who were detained for their Christian beliefs.
The prisoner revealed that Khulaidi was arrested shortly after the Houthis took over Sanaa. The priest is constantly being tortured and held for weeks in solitary confinement.
Other Christian detainees were forced to leave their religion under the threat of torture, said the prisoner.
Meanwhile, two of Khulaidi’s friends told Asharq Al-Awsat that he converted to Christianity in the mid-1990s.
Prior to the Houthi takeover of Sanaa, the Christians in the capital used to perform their religious practices in secret at their homes in Sanaa, Taiz and Marib, said the friends on condition of anonymity.
The majority, estimated at some 2,000, have since emigrated from Yemen and moved to Beirut or Cyprus, before later moving to other countries.
The sources revealed that Khulaidi’s wife and five children are currently living in a rented apartment in Sanaa. They are helpless from doing anything because the Houthis do not tolerate Yemeni followers of other religions. They live in fear for their lives because of the militias’ extremism and reach of their intelligence members.
The sources said that Houthi leader Khaled al-Madani is in charge of the militias’ so-called “signs of westernization” file. His duties, besides cracking down on Christians, is monitoring businesses where women are allowed to work, controlling dress codes and co-ed mixing at universities.
Meanwhile, the Baha'i International Community (BIC) issued a statement, saying: “Houthi authorities—who have harassed the country’s Baha’i religious minority since taking power in the capital Sanaa, in 2014—continue to intimidate and endanger the lives of Baha’is while also seeking to appropriate their properties. In the latest development, 19 Baha’is are being summoned before a Houthi court for the resumption of their trial, and will be branded as fugitives if they do not appear.”
“If they do appear, these 19 will in all likelihood be convicted of the baseless charges leveled against them because of their Baha’i beliefs, which include ‘showing kindness’ and ‘displaying rectitude of conduct’, and then jailed and subjected to mistreatment,” it said.
“What is happening to these nineteen people is an all too familiar outrageous occurrence,” said Diane Ala’i, the Baha’i International Community’s (BIC) Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, referring to the fate of six other Yemeni Baha’is in previous years. The six were arrested between 2013 and 2017 and jailed and tortured, before a UN-backed campaign eventually secured their release in July 2020 on the condition that they be deported from Yemen. The Houthis then branded them “fugitives” despite having forced their exile.
“As part of the court summons, the authorities are expected to publish the names of the nineteen in the media, directly endangering their lives in a context where violence against the Baha’is has been publicly encouraged,” said the BIC statement.