Human Rights Watch, February 4, 2015.
A statement released by Human Rights Watch says that the Yemeni government should drop all charges against Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, a Yemeni Bahai, which violate his basic rights to freedom of religion.
Authorities have detained Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, 50, without trial since December 2013. They have often denied him access to lawyers and family and subjected him to torture, his wife, Elham Muhammad Hossain Zara`i, told Human Rights Watch. The authorities allege that Haydara attempted to convert Yemeni Muslims and collaborated with Israel.
“The charges against Hamed Kamel Haydara appear to be based entirely on his adherence to the Bahai faith, flagrantly violating his right to freedom of religion,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of HRW. “Haydara should be released immediately and his allegations of torture impartially investigated.” … “Hamed Kamal Haydara is a victim of a Yemeni government policy that persecutes the Bahai,” Whitson said. “The case sheds a disturbing light on the government’s mistreatment of the country’s religious minorities.”
On January 8, 2015, the Specialized Criminal Court prosecutor issued an indictment claiming that Haydara was an Iranian citizen, using a false name, who arrived in Yemen only in 1991. Photocopies of his Yemini ID and passport provided by his wife show he was born in Yemen in 1964, however. The prosecutor charged him with collaborating with Israel by working for the Universal House of Justice, the Bahai supreme governing institution, which is based in Haifa, Israel. They also allege that he lured potential Muslim converts to the Bahai faith through charitable giving and tried to “establish a homeland for the followers of the Bahai faith” in Yemen.
In the indictment, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, the prosecutor charges Haydara under Yemen’s Penal Code with committing, among other crimes, “an act that violates the independence of the republic, its unity, or the integrity of its lands,” “working for a foreign state’s interests,” “insulting Islam,” and “apostasy.” The prosecutor is seeking “the maximum possible penalty,” which for some of these charges is death, and confiscation of his property. The Prosecutor’s office has informed Haydara that his next hearing is scheduled for February 22, 2015.
On December 3, 2013, officers from the National Security Bureau (NSB), one of the country’s intelligence agencies, arrested Haydara at his workplace in Balhaf, in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa, and transferred him to an NSB detention center in Sanaa, the capital. On December 17, six security officers searched his home and confiscated paperwork, laptops, and other electronic equipment, his wife told Human Rights Watch. She said that despite her repeated inquiries, authorities refused to give any reasons for his detention until August 2014.
During his first nine months in detention, the authorities denied Haydara access to his lawyer and his family, Zara`i said. She was allowed to speak with him for the first time over the phone on June 3, 2014, but could not visit him until September 2, following intervention by foreign diplomats and others. The authorities then transferred his case file to the attorney general. Haydara told his wife that during the first 45 days of his incarceration, officers beat him with a metal rod, causing him to lose hearing in his left ear, subjected him to electric shocks, and forced him to stand in a bucket of cold water. He said that National Security officers accused him of spying for Israel and proselytizing, and forced him to sign a 19-page document while blindfolded and without knowledge of its contents. Authorities transferred Haydara to Sanaa Central Prison on October 6.
Zara`i told Human Rights Watch that in a September 4 meeting with one of the judges presiding over the case, he threatened her with prison because of her faith and told her that all Bahais should be imprisoned.
Most of the charges against Haydara relate to his practice of the Bahai faith and violate article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
Yemen ratified the ICCPR in 1987 and is bound under international treaty law to implement its provisions.
About 1,000 Bahais live in Yemen. The case against Haydara is not the first of its kind in Yemen, according to representatives of the global Bahai community. In June 2008, National Security officers arrested Behrooz Rouhani, a Bahai man, and two visiting Bahai friends, all of whom carried Iranian passports, at Rouhani’s home in Sanaa. Officers arrested a fourth Bahai man, who carried an Iraqi passport, the next day. The four were released without charge after 120 days. The authorities told them to leave Yemen within two months, but this order was later revoked and two of them still live in Yemen.
Local human rights activists have reported that past Yemeni governments also imposed unlawful restrictions on other religious minorities, including Christian, Jewish, and Ismaili individuals.
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