Houthi court upholds death sentence against Bahai leader

Iran-backed rebels defy international calls to drop charges against Hamid bin Haydara

A Houthi soldier stands guard outside a court in Sanaa in Sanaa in April 2016 during protest by the Bahai community against the trial of their leader Hamed bin Haydara.
A Houthi soldier stands guard outside a court in Sanaa in Sanaa in April 2016 during protest by the Bahai community against the trial of their leader Hamed bin Haydara. EPA

Mina Aldroubi

Source: The National

A Houthi criminal court confirmed a death sentence this week against the leader of Yemen’s Bahai community after a series of appeals.

Hamed bin Haydara was sentenced to death for espionage and apostasy in 2018. He was not allowed into Sunday’s hearing in the capital Sanaa.

Mr Haydara was first detained in 2013, beaten and electrocuted, forced to sign documents while blindfolded, the Bahai community has said.

The Bahai office in the US condemned the decision and urged Houthi authorities to drop the charges against Mr Haydara and 24 other members of the group facing similar accusations.

“We are shocked that the Houthi authorities have decided to uphold the death sentence for Hamed bin Haydara, who is innocent of any crime and the victim of a blatant, undisguised act of religious persecution,” Anthony Vance, director of the US Bahai Office of Public Affairs, told The National.

“The Houthi authorities need to understand that, despite the world’s preoccupation with the Covid-19 pandemic, they cannot slip this act of impunity by the eyes of the world,” Mr Vance said.

The rebels have taken advantage of the novel coronavirus to push through Mr Haydara’s death sentence, Abdullah Al Olofi, spokesman for the Bahai minority in Yemen, told The National.

“Our appeal to release Mr Haydara has been rejected and so his execution will go forward,” Mr Al Olofi said.

The Bahai faith was founded in Iran in 1844 and considers itself a universal religion. Iran’s Shiite religious establishment condemns the faith as heretical.

The Houthis are allied with Iran, which restricts the rights of Bahais despite allowing freedom of religion for Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

“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 Bahais,” Diane Ala’i, the community’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said in a statement.

Several members of the faith in Yemen have faced severe persecution with many of its leaders on trial in Houthi courts in cases that have been condemned by the US and others as religious persecution.

Mr Haydara is one of six Bahais currently imprisoned in Sanaa by the Houthis.

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