Yemeni Baha’i leader to appear in court for death sentence appeal

Hamid Bin Haydara has been in Houthi detention since 2013

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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A leader of Yemen's Baha’i community will have an appeal against his death sentence heard on Tuesday in a court in the rebel-controlled capital.

Hamed Bin Haydara is due to appear before a Specialised Criminal Court in Sanaa on Tuesday, according to the US Baha'i Office of Public Affairs.

He was sentenced to death in January last year for espionage and apostasy, charges that were filed against him in 2015.

The Iran-backed rebels have arrested and charged dozens of Baha’is after seizing the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. Last year 24 Baha’is were accused of apostasy and espionage in a Sanaa court. Five of them are being held in prison and their case is being presided over by the same judge who sentenced Mr Haydara to death, according to the Baha'i International Community.

The group, which represents the religious minority worldwide, expressed strong concern last week for the “safety of all Baha’is in Yemen following the Houthi prosecutor’s baseless accusations against Mr Haydara".

The Baha'is, rights groups and the United States say the rebels are persecuting the community for their faith, which accepts all religions as having true and valid origins. Most of the nearly 2,000 Baha'is in Yemen are based in Sanaa.

The US has demanded that the rebels release all detained Baha'is after reports they were being mistreated and tortured in custody.

“We are deeply concerned about credible reports that the Houthis continue to severely mistreat, arbitrarily detain, and torture Baha'is in Yemen,” US State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said last week.

Mr Haydara has reportedly been subjected to physical and psychological torture in prison.

"We urge the Houthis to overturn the death sentence handed down to Baha'i Hamed bin Haydara in January 2018, and to release him and all others detained inYemen  because of their faith," the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback, said on Twitter.

The Baha’i representative at the United Nations, Bani Dugal, said the prosecution had not addressed Mr Haydara's appeal but was instead making "absurd, wide-ranging accusations”.

“The prosecutor directly attacks the Baha’i faith itself and makes irrational accusations that clearly stem from religious prejudice against the Baha’i community. Of particular concern is the threat against Mr Haydara’s lawyer,” Ms Dugal said.

“These tactics are precisely the same as those used by the Iranian authorities as they have persecuted the Iranian Baha’i community, threatened those that defend the Baha’is, disbanded the community’s leadership and institutions, and handed out death sentences for false allegations,” Ms Dugal said.

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 preach unity among religions.