Death sentence trial of Yemen's Baha'i leader postponed until next month

Houthi charges against Baha'i leader endanger vulnerable Yemeni religious minority, US Baha'i office says

Abdullah al-Olufi, the spokesperson for the Baha'i community in Yemen, holds flowers as he stands outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a Baha'i man charged with seeking to establish a base for the community in Yemen, in the country's capital Sanaa April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah - GF10000369842
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The death sentence trial of a Yemeni Baha'i leader, who was due to appear in court on Sunday, has been postponed until next month, a spokesperson for the religious group said. 
Hamed bin Haydara was expected to appear in a Houthi criminal court in Sanaa on Sunday. The Baha'i leader was sentenced to death in January last year for espionage and apostasy, charges that were filed against him in 2015. But Yemen's internationally recognised government and his family say the charges against him are part of the rebels' wider persecution of the country's tiny Baha'i minority.

The Baha'i official is expected to appear in court on July 2.

If the death sentence of Mr Haydara is upheld by the Houthi court, it will set a precedent that will endanger all Yemeni followers of the faith, the director of the office of public affairs for the Baha'is of the United States, Anthony Vance, told The National.

“The Houthi authorities are continuing to draw out Mr Haydara’s appeal process, causing him and his family tremendous stress and strain. He is an innocent man. The only thing he is guilty of is being a Baha’i,” Mr Vance said.

“Not only is Mr Haydara on trial here, but religious freedom as a whole in Yemen,” Mr Vance said.

Violence against the minority group has become more common since the rebels seized Yemen’s capital in 2014, with the US, UN and numerous international organisations calling for a halt to the prosecution of Baha’is.

The rebels have arrested 22 members of the faith along with Mr Haydara and five other prominent Baha’i leaders.

The death sentence against Mr Haydara was issued in his absence and his lawyer was not given the opportunity to contest the evidence presented against him.

Since his arrest more than four years ago, relatives say only eight of Mr Haydara's 38 court hearings “were properly organised”.

His family say Mr Haydara is in poor health and have urged the international community to lobby for his freedom.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of Hamed and other Baha’is prisoners in Sana’a, and for all the Baha’is in Yemen,” Mr Haydara’s sister Hoda said in a video released by the Baha’i Community of Canada.

Mr Haydara’s brother-in-law Nasim said the charges against him were baseless.

Nearly 2,000 Baha'is live in Yemen, mostly in Houthi-held Sanaa.

“We ask the Houthi authorities to overturn the unjust death sentence, and release Mr Haydara immediately,” Mr Vance said.