Yemen: Huthi authorities must release Bahá’ís, end crackdown

The Huthi armed group in control of parts of Yemen must immediately ensure the release of all 27 members of the Bahá’í religion who have been detained in the capital, Sana’a, for a week without charge, in a blatant case of persecution of a minority faith.

Armed officers in balaclavas from Yemen’s National Security Bureau (NSB) intelligence agency, which works hand in hand with the armed Huthi authorities, stormed a Bahá’í youth workshop in Sana’a on 10 August and arrested 65 people, including 14 women and six people under 18 without an arrest warrant. Further arrests were carried out yesterday.

“The arbitrary arrests of Bahá’í people for doing nothing more than attending a peaceful community event is completely unjustifiable. It is just the latest example of authorities’ persecution of minority faiths,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“The Huthis must end their harassment of minorities and respect the right to freedom of religion – a right that is enshrined in the country’s own constitution and international law.”

Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International

Some of the arrested participants were released, while the al-Sakkaf brothers — the husbands of two detained women — were later called into the NSB and were also arrested. Twenty-seven still remain in the agency’s custody without access to lawyers or family visits.

The detentions of Bahá’ís on account of their faith violate Yemen’s obligations under international law and appear to be part of a wider crackdown on minorities by the Huthi authorities. The Bahá’ís were also persecuted on account of their faith under ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh prior to the armed conflict.

The al-Sakkaf brothers were previously apprehended by Huthi authorities in March 2015 and held for two days, and were interrogated about their faith and other members of the community. They were released without charge.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Yemen ratified in 1987, guarantees the right of everyone to have or adopt a religion or belief of their choice and to practise their religion “individually or … with others and in public or private”.

Yemen’s penal code, however, imposes penalties for the “crime” of apostasy as well as for attempting to convert Muslims to other faiths.

Yemen’s penal code.. imposes penalties for the “crime” of apostasy as well as for attempting to convert Muslims to other faiths.

The detention of the Bahá’ís for a week without charge and without being brought before a court also breaches the provision in Yemen’s constitution, which requires that anybody arrested must be presented in court within 24 hours from the time of arrest.

In another case, Bahá’í member Hamed Haydara is due for his final court hearing on 25 September 2016. He was detained in December 2013 and accused of trying to convert Muslims to the Baha’i faith.

He is also charged, among other things, with apostasy, working on behalf of the Israeli government and undermining the independence of the Yemeni State, all of which carry a mandatory death sentence under Yemeni law. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.