(Beirut) – Houthi authorities should drop all charges against a Baha’i man who was sentenced to death on January 2, 2018 because of his religious beliefs, Human Rights Watch said today. The Houthis should unconditionally release Hamed Kamal Haydara and the six other Baha’i men who appear to have been detained for practicing their faith.

The Houthis should cease all persecution of the Baha’i religious minority in areas of Yemen under their control, Human Rights Watch said.

The Specialized Criminal Court in Sanaa, Yemen, sentenced Hamed Kamal Haydara, detained since December 2013, to death on January 2, 2018, apparently on account of his religious beliefs and practice of the Baha'i faith.

 

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“Hamed Kamal Haydara’s persecution and death sentence are emblematic of the Houthis’ broader attack on the Baha’i community,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than continue these grave injustices, the Houthis should allow Haydara and other wrongfully held Baha’i men to return home to their loved ones.”

The Specialized Criminal Court in Sanaa, the capital, sentenced Haydara to death on unsubstantiated charges of communicating with Israel and related offenses. Between April and October 2017, the Houthis arrested five other members of the Baha’i community – Akram Ayash, Wael Al-Ariqi, Walid Ayyash, Badi’u’llah Sanai, and another man. Keyvan Qadari, an Iranian national who was born and has lived all his life in Yemen, has been detained since August 2016, the last of five dozen Baha’is arrested en masse on August 10, apparently on account of their religion. All seven remain in custody.

Before the Houthis took over Sanaa in September 2014, Yemen’s National Security Bureau arrested Haydara in December 2013 and held him in a detention center in Sanaa for nearly a year. Officers allegedly beat him and subjected Haydara to electric shock and other forms of torture and ill-treatment. He was held incommunicado for nine months before being transferred to Sanaa’s Central Prison.

On January 8, 2015, the Specialized Criminal Court prosecutor issued an indictment against Haydara. The authorities accused Haydara of unlawfully communicating with Israel, but most of the charges against him related to his practice of the Baha’i faith. Haydara’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the only evidence the prosecution presented in court to demonstrate Haydara had communicated with Israel was messages sent to all members of the Baha’i faith from the Baha’i supreme governing institution. This institution is based in Haifa, Israel, and has been the Baha’i faith’s administrative headquarters since 1868, when the city was under Ottoman rule. The court claimed Haydara had confessed, but the sentencing hearing did not clarify exactly to what and its significance in the judge’s decision, his lawyer said. Family members told Human Rights Watch in 2015 that while in detention Haydara had been mistreated and forced to sign documents without being allowed to review them.

During his trial, Haydara was prevented from attending a number of court hearings, including the January 2 session when his sentence was announced. The court found Haydara guilty of communicating with Israel and forging official documents, ordered the seizure of all his assets, and sentenced him to death, according to Mwatana, a leading Yemeni human rights organization that monitored the trial, examined court documents, and attended the sentencing hearing.

A month after sentencing Haydara to death, and despite repeated requests, Houthi authorities had not provided Haydara or his lawyer with a copy of the judgment or other critical files the prosecution put forward, which they requested to prepare an appeal.

Over the past three years, the Houthis have detained, forcibly disappeared, and abused scores of people, including perceived political opponents, students, journalists, activists, and members of the Baha’i community. While many people are held without charge or have been forcibly disappeared, others have been prosecuted in Sanaa-based criminal courts.

The Houthis have frequently harassed and arbitrarily detained members of the Baha’i community, which the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief described as a “persistent pattern of persecution.” Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Mwatana have repeatedly called for Haydara’s release and an end to the persecution of Yemen’s Baha’i community.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel form of punishment. It is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

Three weeks after sentencing Haydara, the Specialized Criminal Court on January 30 sentenced a woman and two men to death for allegedly aiding the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthi-run Saba news network reported. The defendants, Saeed Mahfoud, Ahmed Abdullah Bawazir, and Asmaa Al-Omeissy, a 22-year-old mother of two, had been forcibly disappeared, mistreated and subjected to a “patently unfair trial,”  Amnesty International reported.

“The Houthis should immediately release Hamed Kamal Haydara and all other members of the Baha’i religious community who are being detained for their religious beliefs,” Whitson said. “They should quash the sentences of all those convicted after unfair trials and end the use of the death penalty.”