(JTA) – The Yemeni government reportedly has imprisoned a Jewish man for allegedly helping smuggle a historic Torah scroll out of the war-torn country and into Israel.
The man and a Muslim airport worker were arrested for their suspected roles in moving the more-than-500-year-old sefer Torah, of which the government claims ownership, the London Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday.
According to the Chronicle, the two are believed to have been arrested after local authorities saw media coverage of Sunday’s covert airlift of 19 Yemeni Jews that was carried out with the assistance of the Jewish Agency and the U.S. State Department. The coverage included photos of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading the Torah scroll with the rabbi of the newly transplanted community.
Religious leaders reportedly are worried the unnamed Jewish prisoner is being tortured, Israeli-American businessman Moti Kahana told the Chronicle.
“When I saw the scroll in the media, I knew the Yemenite government would complain – they would say that international law was broken,” said Kahana, who helped organize the rescue of the last Jews of Aleppo, Syria, last year, and has created a nonprofit that cares for Jewish historical artifacts from that country.
Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer said he could not confirm whether a Jewish man was currently being detained in Yemen, but said, “The ancient Torah scroll brought from Yemen to Israel this week is the property of the Raydah Jewish community, of Yemenite Jewry, and of the Jewish people.”
Mayer added: “The notion that the Torah should have been left, without protection, in a country torn apart by a violent civil war involving several parties that are viciously hostile to Jews is preposterous. The Torah is part of the proud heritage of Yemenite Jewry and that heritage will live on in the state of Israel.”
According to i24News, numerous Yemeni citizens have taken to social media to criticize the community’s decision to take the historic Torah with them, with one person writing that “agents of the Zionist occupation … allowed these Jews to steal our heritage.”