Yemen Baha'i leader faces unjust trial by Houthi rebels

Hamed bin Haydara, falsely accused of espionage, must be released immediately says Yemeni government

Members of the Baha'i faith 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
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A prominent Yemeni Baha’i leader is expected to appear in a Houthi court on Tuesday, amid international concerns of rebel persecution against the religious minority group.

Hamed bin Haydara, 52, who has been in Houthi detention in Sanaa since 2013, was sentenced to death by a Houthi court for charges of espionage and apostasy.

UN human rights representatives have called for the rebels to overturn his death sentence.

"Hamed Haydara has been falsely charged with spying for Israel and for forging official documents," a Yemeni government official told The National.

Over 100 Baha’is, including six prominent members, being held by the rebels have been tried on charges the minority says are false.

Yemen’s internationally recognised government has repeatedly pushed for their release but the rebels are yet to respond.

“The Houthis are fabricating criminal charges against innocent members of the Baha’i faith. They are being falsely accused of espionage,” the official said.

The rebels have detained five other Baha’is members, including some who have been subjected to enforced disappearances.

Mr Haydara is guilty of no crime other than being a Baha'i, the Director of the office of public affairs for the Baha'is of the US, Anthony Vance, told The National.

"We urge the Houthi authorities to drop the baseless charges against Mr Haydara and release him immediately, along with all other Baha’is in their custody," Mr Vance said.

Baha'is are a peaceful religious minority that has no ambitions other than service to our communities and the betterment of the world, he added.

Violence against the minority group has become more common over the last three years, with both the UN and international organisations calling for a halt to the prosecution.

A number of trials against Mr Haydara has taken place including the imposition of his death sentence, which took place in his absence and his lawyer was not given the opportunity to contest the evidence presented against him.

His death sentence is a result of a fundamentally flawed system, Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director said in a statement.

“These include a trumped up charges, an unfair trial and credible allegations that Hamid Haydara was tortured and ill-treated in custody. It is also part of a wider crackdown on critics, journalists, human rights defenders and members of the Baha’i community that is causing entire families to live in fear for their safety and the safety of their loved ones,” Mr Luther said.

The Baha’i community has said that Mr Haydara is in poor health and must be released immediately.

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 in 2014, the vulnerable community coexisted in peace with other factions of Yemen’s society.