Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

US calls on Houthis to release Yemeni Bahai leader from detention

Hamed bin Haydara’s situation encapsulates the suffering of Yemen's Bahai community

A Yemeni soldier (R) keeps watch as Bahai members hold banners during a protest against the trial of member of the Bahai leader Hamed Haydara, outside the state security court in Sanaa, Yemen, 03 April 2016. EPA
A Yemeni soldier (R) keeps watch as Bahai members hold banners during a protest against the trial of member of the Bahai leader Hamed Haydara, outside the state security court in Sanaa, Yemen, 03 April 2016. EPA

A United States religious freedom body urged Yemen's Houthi rebels this week to pardon and release a prominent Bahai leader facing a death sentence, following the postponement of his appeal hearing.

Hamed bin Haydara, 55, was sentenced to death for espionage and apostasy by a Houthi court in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in January last year, charges that were filed against him in 2015.

But Yemen’s internationally recognised government and his family say the charges are baseless and are part of broader persecution of the country’s tiny Bahai minority by the Houthis.

Mr Haydara was expected to appear in a Houthi court on Sunday but the hearing was postponed until July 9, the US Bahai Office of Public Affairs told The National.

“Mr Haydara’s case is an egregious violation of justice based on the Houthis’ intolerance of Bahais and other religious minorities in Yemen,” said Andy Khawaja, commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal body set up by congress to monitor threats to religious freedom abroad.

Mr Khawaja advocates on behalf of Mr Haydara as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.

Mr Haydara’s situation encapsulates the suffering of Yemen's Bahai community.

“He has been deprived of his liberty and dignity simply because he had been seeking to live according to his beliefs,” Mr Khawaja said in a statement.

Mr Hayadara is among dozens of Bahai followers who are currently detained in Houthi prisons.

Last year 24 Bahais were accused of apostasy and espionage in a Sanaa court. Five of them are being held in prison and their case is being presided over by the same judge who sentenced Mr Haydara to death, according to the Bahai International Community.

The USCIRF's 2019 annual report suggested designating the Iran-backed rebels as an “entity of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, based on the group’s egregious violations of religious freedom in 2018.

Although the State Department designated the Houthis as an “entity of particular concern” in November 2018, the USCIRF's suggestion solely focuses on the rebels religious violations in Yemen.

The designation enables the imposition of US sanctions.

The Bahai faith calls for unity among religions and equality between men and women.

It was founded in Iran in 1844, and considers itself a universal religion, but is opposed by the regime in Tehran.

Bahais regard their faith’s 19th-century founder as the latest in a line of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad. Iran’s Shiite religious establishment condemns the faith as heretical.

There are an estimated six million Bahai followers worldwide.

Updated: July 4, 2019 03:57 PM

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