Houthi court upholds death sentence against Bahai leader

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

epa05242653 A Yemeni soldier (R) keeps watch as Baha'i Faith members hold banners 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

A Houthi court confirmed the death sentence this week against the leader of Yemen’s Bahai community after 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 bin Haydara was detained in 2013, beaten and given electric shocks, and forced to sign documents while blindfolded, the Bahai community says.

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

"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."

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

“Our appeal to release Mr bin 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 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 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," said Diane Ala'i, the community's representative to the UN in Geneva.

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

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