Houthis refuse appeal to free Baha'i leader from death sentence

Dozens of Baha'is, including six prominent members, held by the rebels have been tried on charges the minority says are false

Members of the Baha'i faith hold flowers as they demonstrate outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow 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 - GF10000369865
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Yemen’s Houthi rebels have refused to rule on an appeal against a prominent Baha’i leader who has been sentenced to death.

Hamed Bin Haydara, has been in Houthi detention since 2013, and is charged with espionage and apostasy.

A hearing was held for Mr Haydara on Tuesday but remained inconclusive, and the next court session is scheduled for the end of the month, according to the US Baha'i office of Public Affairs.

Dozens of Baha'i followers, including six prominent members, held by the rebels have been tried on charges the minority says are false.

“A Houthi court in Sanaa has also given 22 Baha’is the same charge as Mr Haydara, most of the defendants have been imprisoned and spent years in detention since the rebels took over Sanaa,” according to the Yemeni Initiative for Defending the Rights of Baha’is.

A UN resolution has called for the immediate release of all Baha’i that are detained in Yemen due to their religious beliefs and to cease any harassment they are subjected to.

Mr Haydara,55, has been subjected to physical and psychological torture as well as being in solitary confinement for long periods, Majd Fadhil, Yemen's deputy Human Rights Minister told The National.

“We have made continuous statements that confirm that there is no legitimacy and legality to his death sentence,” Mr Fadhil said.

But the Iran-backed rebels have not responded to the government's request to release the Baha'i detainees.

“This is a pure violation to the international and human rights laws,” Mr Fadhil said, adding that the ministry is calling on the UN and other international agencies to condemn this crime.

“They must pressure the militias to release all those who are arbitrarily abducted, forcibly disappeared,” the official said.

The Houthi court last year ruled for the confiscation of Mr Haydara’s assets and properties and for the closing of all Baha'i institutions in Yemen, Mr Fadhil said.

His family members say he is in poor health and must be released immediately.

Violence against the minority group has become more common over the last three years since the rebels seized Yemen’s capital.

"Mr Haydara is innocent of any crime and should be cleared of all charges. This ongoing prosecution, based solely on his religious beliefs, is an affront to justice. We ask that he and all other imprisoned Baha'is be released immediately," Anthony Vance, Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Baha'is of the United States told The National.

The Baha'i faith was founded in Iran, but is opposed by the regime in Tehran. Iran grants freedom of religion to several minorities but targets the Baha'is, who believe in unity among religions.

Nearly 2,000 Baha'is live in Yemen, with most of them based in Houthi-held Sanaa. Prior to the rebel coup, the vulnerable community coexisted in peace with other factions of Yemen’s society.