CAIRO — An international rights group on Tuesday decried the prosecution of 24 Yemeni Bahais, including women and a teenager, by a Houthi rebel court on espionage charges.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East director of research, said the group fears the Bahais could receive the death penalty amid "flagrantly unfair proceedings."
The trial opened on Saturday and has been adjourned until Sept. 29. A lawyer following the case said the process was swift and most of the defendants were tried in absentia because only five were in custody. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution.
Iran banned the Baha'i religion, which was founded in 1844 by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by followers.
The Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis have occupied northern Yemen since 2014, after which the legitimate government fled the country and sought military intervention by a Saudi Arabian-led coalition. Houthis have waged an all-out campaign against all political and religious opponents and held thousands in detention, where torture is rampant.
The Houthi group's leader has targeted Bahais in public speeches describing them as "satanic" and several Bahais have been detained, tortured and held incommunicado, according to the community's U.N. representative.
A top figure was sentenced to death over charges of collaboration with Israel. In 2016, over 60 women, men and children participating in an educational gathering organized by Bahais were arrested as part of a mass crackdown on the religious community.
Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, expressed concern in a statement and said the charges as "extremely alarming and mark a severe intensification of pressure."
He also said that the Houthi targeting of Bahais is "eerily reminiscent of the persecution of Baha'is in Iran in the 1980s during which leaders of the Baha'i community were rounded up and killed."