Yemen's rich and diverse culture is being eroded

Persecution of Baha'i followers encapsulates the suffering of a whole community

epa05242647 Baha'i Faith members hold flowers during a protest against the trial of member of the Baha'i Faith Hamed Haydara, outside the state security court in Sana?a, Yemen, 03 April 2016. According to reports, Yemeni authorities have indicted Hamed Haydara, a Yemeni national who was detained in December 2013 accused of being a spy for Israel and converting Muslims to the Baha'i Faith.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB *** Local Caption *** 52682110
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As the UAE's Year of Tolerance continues, events such as the historic Papal visit and the laying of the foundation stone of Abu Dhabi's first traditional Hindu temple have offered an important reminder that the peaceful and prosperous co-existence of diverse religions is not only possible, but essential in today's globalised world. Unfortunately, many other countries have yet to embrace such values. Worse yet, some are actively stripping away the rights of minority groups to practice their faiths. In January last year, Hamed bin Haydara, the leader of Yemen's Baha'i community, was sentenced to death for espionage and apostasy. On Sunday, he was expected to appear in front of a Houthi court for a hearing related to his sentence. It was, however, adjourned until next month. Mr Haydara's situation encapsulates the suffering of a whole community. The charges against him are widely believed to be baseless, brought solely to justify Houthi persecution of Baha'is.

Yemen’s Baha’i community makes up less than one per cent of the country’s total population. Bahaism is a syncretic religion, combining elements of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. The faith was founded in 19th-century Iran, where its followers have long been victimised. According to a 2017 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Iran has deprived members of the Baha’i community of virtually all their rights. They face torture, arbitrary detention and have limited access to jobs and education. Yemen’s Iran-backed militia is following this policy of oppression.

Mr Haydara's arrest sets a worrying precedent for Baha'is in Yemen – one that threatens to push them out of the country. In the 1940s, campaigns of anti-Semitic violence made the lives of Yemenite Jews in partitioned Yemen and Aden unbearable. In response, Israeli authorities organised rescue operations that airlifted 50,000 people to the newly created state. Once there, they faced continued discrimination. Today, only 50 Yemenite Jews remain in their homeland. The loss of such communities erodes Yemen's once rich and diverse culture. The Baha'is have remained in the war-torn country, despite increasing hardship and isolation. For this, they deserve respect and recognition, not persecution.