A Yemeni appeals court run by Houthi rebels on Sunday upheld the death sentence of a member of the Baha’i religion. The court also ordered the dissolution of Baha’i institutions.
Hamed bin Haydara was detained by Houthi rebels in 2013, and was denied access to a March 22 appeal hearing in Sanaa which upheld an earlier death sentence.
“This alarming decision is an egregious violation of religious freedom and the fundamental rights of Yemeni Baha’is,” Gayle Manchin, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said March 23. “USCIRF has been long concerned with the welfare of Mr. bin Haydara and the Yemeni Baha’i community. We call on Houthi authorities to immediately reverse this verdict and cease their baseless persecution of this peaceful religious minority.”
According to USCIRF, bin Haydara was charged with “with spying for Israel, teaching literacy classes deemed incompatible with Islam, and attempting to convert Muslims.”
The Baha’i International Community said it was “utterly dismayed at this outrageous verdict” and demanded the court reverse the decision, AFP reported.
“At a time when the international community is battling a global health crisis, it is incomprehensible that the authorities in Sanaa have upheld a death sentence against an innocent individual solely because of his beliefs instead of focusing on safeguarding the population, including Baha’is,” said Diane Ala’i, a Baha’i representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
According to AFP, the Houthis have sought to ban the Baha’i religion.. The Houthi movement’s courts have started proceedings against 20 members of the religion, six of whom have been detained. The movement controls Sanaa and much of the westernmost part of the country.
In January, Pope Francis told Holy See diplomats that the crisis in Yemen is “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history.”
The civil war between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabian-led coalition has killed over 100,000 people since 2015. According to a Center of Strategic and International Studies report, the war has also caused nearly 24 million people to be in need of humanitarian assistance.
Restraint on humanitarian organizations and aerial attacks has left 80% of Yemen’s population in need of food, fuel, and medicine, the CSIS Task Force on Humanitarian Access reported.
The Associated Press reported in February that half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs had been blocked by the Houthi rebels. The rebels had requested that 2% of the humanitarian budget be given directly to them, heightening concerns that the group has been diverting charitable funds to finance the war.
In recent years, the pope has often asked for prayers for the Yemeni people in his public audiences.
“Pray hard, because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus address in February 2019.