‘Welcomed’ pardon for Baha’i prisoner sentenced to death
A Baha’i follower, sentenced to death in Yemen by the Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, has been pardoned by the President of the Supreme Political Council, in a surprising move that has been welcomed by the Bahai International Community, which has called for its immediate implementation.
Hamed bin Haydara has been in prison in Sanaa since 2013, charged with spying for Israel and converting Muslims to the Baha’i faith.
Baha’i man Hamed bin Haydara – here with his family – was sentenced to death by a Yemeni court on charges of spying for Israel and converting Muslims to the Baha’i faith.
He was sentenced to death in absentia by a judge of the Specialised Criminal Court controlled by the Houthis in 2018.
He had faced a series of court hearings since January 2015, often with lengthy delays and cancellation of sessions in between.
An execution date was not announced, but the judge ordered that it be carried out in public.
Natalie Mobini, director of the Office of External Affairs for the Australian Baha’i Community, said then the charges were baseless.
"The charge of spying relates solely to the location of the Bahai World Centre, which has been located in the Holy Land since the 19th century, long before the creation of Israel.”
"Furthermore, Baha'i teachings forbid proselytising. An individual's decision about whether to become a Bahai is entirely up to them.”
“Mr Haydara has not committed any crime, let alone one that warrants the death penalty.”
On March 22, the grim news came that the Court of Appeals in Sanaa had upheld the death sentence. Haydara was not allowed to attend court.
In response, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said, “this decision, taken in Hamed Haydara's absence, is only the latest development in what has been a flagrantly flawed trial and indicates the lengths to which the Houthis are willing to go to consolidate their control.
“There is no question that Hamed Haydara is being sentenced to death solely for his conscientiously held beliefs and peaceful activities. We urge the Houthi authorities to quash his death sentence, and immediately and unconditionally release him.”
A few days later, in what the Australian Baha'i community calls "a welcomed turn of events", Mahdi al-Mashat ordered a pardon for Haydara and the release of all Baha'i prisoners.
The others to be released were named as Waleed Ayyash, Akram Ayyash, Kayvan Ghaderi, Badiullah Sanai and Wael al-Arieghie.
“The order must lead to the lifting of the 2018 charges against a group of over 20 Baha'is, the returning of all Bahai-owned assets and properties, and the functioning of Baha'i institutions,”
Diane Alai, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, said.
“Like all other Yemeni citizens, Baha'is should be permitted to practise their faith freely, in keeping with the universal principles of freedom of religion or belief.”
More than 240 prisoners have been released in government-held areas as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, officials there said.
Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, which is mired in a bloody civil war, has not yet detected any cases of the coronavirus, most likely because of its weak disease surveillance systems.
The civil war erupted in 2014 when the Shiite Houthis, backed by Iran, seized Sanaa along with much of the country’s north, ousting president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Months later the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened to try to restore Hadi's internationally recognised government.
The war has killed more than 100,000 people, many by Saudi-led air strikes. It has led to the world's worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.
The Baha'i faith originated in Iran in 1844. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Iranian Baha’i community has undergone severe persecution.
As of 1 April 2020, HRWF's Prisoners Database had documented five Baha'is being held on death row in Yemen (see https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/).
Charges against Baha'is are often based on these articles of the Yemeni Criminal Code:
- Article 125: violating the independence, unity or territorial integrity of the Republic, punishable by death.
- Article 128: working in the interests of a foreign state, provision or exchanging of information with a foreign government, punishable by death.
- Article 195: ridicule, contempt or claiming inferiority of the Islamic religion, punishable by imprisonment of five years or a fine.
- Article 259: leaving or denouncing the religion of Islam after being given the opportunity for repentance three times and respite of thirty days, punishable by death. Apostasy in public by speech or acts is considered contradictory to the principles of Islam.
On 26 September 2019, the Human Rights Council of the UN adopted a resolution expressing its concerns about the egregious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the severe restrictions of freedom of religion or belief for minorities such as the Baha’i faith.
The UN report on the “Situation of human rights in Yemen” published on 9 August 2019 highlighted the authorities’ continued persecution of the Baha’is on the basis of their beliefs. This includes detaining and charging them with apostasy, openly deriding and demonising the Baha'i faith in legal filings, issuing death sentences and threatening their supporters.
Additionally, the persecution of Baha'is in Yemen was outlined in a press release published by the Baha’i International Community.
On 4 October 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the situation in Yemen that condemned the systemic campaign of harassment, arbitrary and abusive detentions, and forced disappearances and torture against religious minorities. At that time, twenty-four Baha'is, including one child, were facing charges that could result in the death penalty due to their beliefs.
 Situation of human rights in Yemen, including violations and abuses since September 2014. 40 session. September 2019. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G19/240/87/PDF/G1924087.pdf?OpenElement