Baseless charges in Yemen signal intensified persecution

Baseless charges in Yemen signal intensified persecution

SANA'A, Yemen, 18 SEPTEMBER 2018, (BWNS)

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi authorities have, in a court hearing Saturday, targeted some 20 Baha’is with a string of baseless charges. This action comes at a time when the leader of the Houthis has incited the population to violence against Baha’is and other religious minorities.

These absurd charges—which include espionage and apostasy—have been primarily leveled against individuals who hold administrative roles in the Baha’i community, but extend to other Yemeni Baha’is including a teenage girl.

Saturday's hearing began with only the judge, the prosecutor, and other court officials present; neither the Baha’is being charged nor their lawyers were informed of the announcement. The next hearing is scheduled for 29 September in Sana'a, to which the judge has summoned those absent from the first court session.

“These charges are extremely alarming and mark a severe intensification of pressure at a time when the Baha’i community is already being threatened and the general humanitarian crisis in the country requires urgent attention,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

“We have every reason to be concerned about the safety of the Baha’i community in Yemen. We urge the international community to call upon the authorities in Sana'a to immediately drop these absurd, false, and baseless accusations against these innocent individuals, who have been maliciously charged simply because they have been practicing their Faith.”

The religiously motivated accusations by Houthi authorities in Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, at Saturday’s court hearing come amid a systematic effort to oppress Yemeni Baha’is, including through hate speech, arrests, imprisonment, and a death sentence.

“The manner in which the Houthis are targeting the Baha’i community in Yemen is eerily reminiscent of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran in the 1980s, during which the leaders of the Baha’i community were rounded up and killed,” Ms. Dugal added.

In a televised speech in March, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, vilified and denounced the Baha’i Faith. He incited the Yemeni people to violence, urging them to defend their country from the Baha’is and members of other religious minorities.

Within days of his speech, several Yemeni news sites reiterated these attacks, and a prominent Houthi writer and strategist commented on social media that “we will butcher every Baha’i”. Similar sentiments were expressed by religious authorities in Sana’a, including the Mufti of Yemen, Shams al-Din Muhammad Sharaf al-Din, who was educated in Iran and was appointed by the Houthis last year.

Currently, six Baha’is are imprisoned for their beliefs. Among them, Hamed bin Haydara, detained since 2013, was sentenced in January to public execution for his faith following a protracted and unjust trial. Abdu Ismail Hassan Rajeh, the same judge who presided over Mr. Haydara's farcical case, is overseeing the trial of the recently charged Baha’is.

This article was originally published by the Baha'i World News Service (BWNS) on 18 September 2018.