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April 19, 2017

20 Bahais arrested in Yemen

Filed under: Bahai rights — Sen @ 14:18
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Bahai News (Persian), April 19, 2017.

On April 18, twenty Bahais living in Sana’a, in Yemen, were arrested because of their Bahai beliefs. Four are women, the remainder men. In August, 2016, the authorities in Sana’a arrested 65 men, women, and children who were attending a youth training seminar organised by the Yemeni Baha’i community and sponsored by the Nida Foundation for Human Development. About half of them, who were not Bahais, and all the girls under 18, were released quickly. The Bahais were detained, but most were later released on bail. The women were well treated, but the men were tortured. Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara (حامد کمال بن حیدرا), who has been detained since December 3, 2013, has also been tortured to obtain a ‘confession.’

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February 15, 2017

Trial of Hamed bin Haydara in Yemen postponed again

A photo from April, 2016.

A photo from April, 2016.


Bahai Campaign, February 14, 2017.

The trial of a Bahai citizen, Hamed bin Haydara, in Sana’a, Yemen, has been postponed for the seventh time. He has been imprisoned without trial since December 3, 2013. In April 2016, the Prosecutor asked for two months to gather evidence, although Mr. bin Haydara had at that point been imprisoned for 28 months. It would appear that no evidence has been found to sustain the various charges against him. Further background to his detention is given in an earlier report on this blog.

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January 20, 2017

Two Bahai men forcibly disappeared in Yemen


Amnesty International, January 19, 2017.

Heshmat Alah Ali Mohammad Sabet Sarvestani and his son-in-law Nadim al-Sakkaf have been arbitrarily detained in Yemen, without charge and subjected to enforced disappearance, since January 11. They have been held incommunicado in an unknown location without access to their families or lawyers, raising fears they might be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

On 11 January, Nadim al-Sakkaf drove Heshmat Alah Sarvestani to the international airport in Yemen’s southern city of Aden. Heshmat Alah Sarvestani was due to board a Yemenia flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to renew his Iranian passport and receive medical treatment. He is 75 years old and suffers from various medical ailments, including arterial hypertension — a rare form of high blood pressure — and a slipped disc. At around 2pm, while at the check-in desk, the two men were approached by an airport officer dressed in civilian clothing who ushered Nadim al-Sakkaf into an office for questioning. Hesmat Alah Sarvestani was called into the same office shortly after. Neither has been seen since. The Yemeni authorities have refused to disclose their whereabouts.

Amnesty International has issued an “urgent action” call because of the dissappearance of the two men,
+ calling on the Yemeni authorities to disclose the fate and whereabouts of Heshmat Alah Sarvestani and Nadim al-Sakkaf and release them immediately and unconditionally, unless they are to be charged with a recognizable criminal offence, in line with international law and standards; and
+ urging them to ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and granted, without delay, regular access to their families, lawyers and any medical treatment they may require.

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December 1, 2016

Yemen’s Baha’is keep the faith amid conflict and crackdown

Nadim al-Sakkaf with his two children before the arrest in August. Photo by Ruhiyeh Thabet al-Sakkaf

Nadim al-Sakkaf with his two children before the arrest in August. Photo by Ruhiyeh Thabet al-Sakkaf


Religion News Service, November 29, 2016.

For 11 days in August, Ruhiyeh Thabet al-Sakkaf and Nafheh Sanai al-Sakkaf say they were forced to share a jacket and a damp cell at Yemen’s National Security Bureau after armed officers stormed a multifaith youth event the sisters-in-law were facilitating and arrested 65 men, women and children.

“They raided us how they would raid a terrorist cell, with masked gunmen shouting, ‘Quiet! Sit down! Nobody move!’” Ruhiyeh said. Ruhiyeh and Nafheh are members of the Bahai Faith, which emphasizes peace, spiritual unity and service. Previous Yemeni regimes have been suspicious of the few thousand Baha’is who live in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Now, with conflicts raging across the region, members of the minority faith are facing new levels of discrimination and persecution from the Houthis, an Islamist group that rose to prominence after seizing control of Yemen’s northwest in 2014.

Ruhiyeh says that as a condition of their release, the young girls — most of them Muslim — who attended the event in early August were forced to sign pledges stating they would not communicate with Bahais or engage in any Bahai-inspired social work. Nafheh and Ruhiyeh signed similar pledges about social work when they were released, with an added clause that they would only practice their religion at home.They initially agreed not to speak to international media, in exchange for a pledge the authorities failed to keep.

“We promised to keep quiet, and they promised to release our husbands,” Nafheh said. “Three weeks after our release, the officers threatened to throw us back in prison, and our husbands were still in jail. That’s when we decided to break our silence.”

Ruhiyeh’s husband, Nadim al-Sakkaf, is the British Council’s country manager in Yemen. He and his brother Nader, who is Nafheh’s husband, were detained from Aug. 10 until their unexpected release Sunday (Nov. 27). Their friend Keyvan Qadari remains in custody.

The three Bahai men faced charges of relaying information to Israel (where the international governing council of the Bahai Faith is centered, and where a shrine to its leader, the Baha’u’llah, is based), converting people to the Bahai Faith and acting as spies for foreign countries. With the Houthi slogan, “God is great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory for Islam,” emblazoned on flags and walls across Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, the threatened charges are serious but completely baseless, their wives say.

International observers agree. In a statement published Nov. 23, Amnesty International referred to the men as arbitrarily detained prisoners of conscience.

Blindfolded and cuffed

Ruhiyeh recalls the agony of not being allowed to contact her children or the outside world in those first few days of imprisonment.

“We didn’t know our husbands were in prison until our fourth day there when my sister-in-law went to bathroom and came back crying, saying she had seen my husband blindfolded and cuffed,” Ruhiyeh said. “We thought they were outside at home with our children. We had not been allowed to call our family to tell them where we were.”

Nafheh says she suffered an emotional breakdown and was released after 11 days to care for her young children. Ruhiyeh was released 16 days later after a heavy airstrike disrupted operations at the National Security Bureau, where she was being detained. Sometime in the weeks thereafter the three men were moved to Sanaa’s Political Security Office, where Qadari remains.

While in custody, Ruhiyeh’s Excellence Foundation for Social Development was ransacked and the extended family’s homes were raided.

Ruhiyeh and Nafheh say fears about Baha’is stem from a complete misunderstanding of the faith.

“They think Bahais are spies of Israel and America, that we’re collaborating with Israel and trying to make people convert to our faith. That’s completely false,” Ruhiyeh said.

The Bahai Faith originated in the 19th century in Iran, where an estimated 300,000 Bahais still live and suffer intense discrimination.

Both women say the Aug. 10 youth event, where Baha’is were a minority, focused on empowering youth to serve their communities.

“The whole training focused on education, peace, unity and accepting everyone who lives in the country despite our different beliefs,” Ruhiyeh said. “We wanted to encourage the youth not to leave, to invest their energies developing the country and bring prosperity in this difficult time the country is going through.”

A greater cause

With their careers on hold — Ruhiyeh’s as a condition of her release and because of the raid on her Foundation, and Nafheh’s job as an English teacher gone amid Yemen’s ongoing conflicts and insecurity — the women shifted their focus to securing the release of their husbands and ensuring their faith community’s constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom.

“When we meet with National Security heads and the leadership of Ansar Allah (the Houthi religious and political group controlling much of the region), we don’t talk about religious minorities. We talk about citizens’ rights for all. We are Yemenis before we are Bahais,” Ruhiyeh said several days before the release of her husband and brother-in-law.

The women have also met with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

“They are impressive in terms of their advocacy for their husbands and their faith,” said Human Rights Watch’s Yemen and Kuwait researcher Kristine Beckerle. “It sounds like the situation really is quite tied to their religious beliefs: all of these informal negotiations, the women being threatened, making pledges they should not be forced to make.”

Ruhiyeh’s and Nafheh’s relentless advocacy over the past few months has often been met with threats to throw them back in jail.

“It’s so unpredictable. We don’t know what’s happening,” Ruhiyeh said. “I don’t know if we’ll be called in and arrested again. Every day, when I leave the house, I wear clothes to prepare myself for the fact that I could be arrested again at any second.”

Buoyed and guided by their faith, Ruhiyeh and Nafheh manage to persevere.

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September 7, 2016

Ruhiyyeh Sabet released in Yemen

Filed under: Bahai rights — Sen @ 19:30
Tags: , , , ,


Bazdasht, September 7, 2016.

Mrs. Ruhiyyeh Sabet (روحيه ثابت), one of the Bahais detained in Yemen since August 10, has been released without having to post bail. According to latest reports, this leaves 14 of this group of Bahais in prison in Yemen. During the raid on a youth training seminar organised by the Yemeni Baha’i community and sponsored by the Nida Foundation for Human Development, 60 people were arrested. About half of them, who were not Bahais, and all the girls under 18, were released quickly. Half the remainder have been released over the past 4 weeks.

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August 17, 2016

Amnesty call provides update on the Bahais arrested in Yemen

Amnesty International, August 17, 2016.

Amnesty International has released a statement calling for the release of the Bahais arrested in Sana’a by Houthi security forces between August 10 and August 16. At present 27 Bahais are being detained, without access to lawyers or family visits. Amnesty states:

The Huthi armed group in control of parts of Yemen must immediately ensure the release of all 27 members of the Baha’i religion who have been detained in the capital, Sana’a, for a week without charge, in a blatant case of persecution of a minority faith.

Armed officers in balaclavas from Yemen’s National Security Bureau (NSB) intelligence agency, which works hand in hand with the armed Huthi authorities, stormed a Baha’i youth workshop in Sana’a on 10 August and arrested 65 people, including 14 women and six people under 18 without an arrest warrant. Further arrests were carried out yesterday [August 16].

“The arbitrary arrests of Baha’i people for doing nothing more than attending a peaceful community event is completely unjustifiable. It is just the latest example of authorities’ persecution of minority faiths,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. “The Huthis must end their harassment of minorities and respect the right to freedom of religion – a right that is enshrined in the country’s own constitution and international law.”

Some of the arrested participants were released, while the al-Sakkaf brothers — the husbands of two detained women — were later called into the NSB and were also arrested. Twenty-seven still remain in the agency’s custody without access to lawyers or family visits.

The detentions of Baha’is on account of their faith violate Yemen’s obligations under international law and appear to be part of a wider crackdown on minorities by the Huthi authorities. The Baha’is were also persecuted on account of their faith under ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh prior to the armed conflict.

The al-Sakkaf brothers were previously apprehended by Huthi authorities in March 2015 and held for two days, and were interrogated about their faith and other members of the community. They were released without charge.

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Trial of Hamed bin Haydara in Yemen postponed 5 weeks


Bazdasht(Persian), August 15, 2016.

The trial of Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara (حامد کمال بن حیدرا) in Sana’a, Yemen, has been postponed until September 25. No reason for this was given by the judge. In April this year, the Prosecutor asked for two months to gather evidence, although Mr. bin Haydara had at that point been imprisoned for 28 months. It would appear that no evidence has been found to sustain the various charges against him. Despite the defendant’s poor health, the judge has refused to allow bail. Mr. Haydara has been detained since December 3, 2013, and has been tortured to extract a confession.

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August 12, 2016

30 Bahai youth arrested in Yemen, trial of Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara scheduled

Reuters, August 12, 2016.

Armed officers from the National Security Bureau in Yemen, an intelligence agency controlled by the Houthis, raided a Bahai youth convention in Sana’a on Wednesday (or Thursday afternoon, August 12: sources differ) and arrested 30 boys and girls, according to a Reuters report. The Houthis are a Zaidi Shiah group, widely thought to be supported by Iran. Bazdasht reports that 60 youth and adults were arrested, but the youth who were not Bahais were released after providing a surety such as a business licence and promising not to associate with Bahais. A number of the girls were also released.  The Bahais of Yemeni extraction were separated from those from Iran and other countries.

The trial of Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara (حامد کمال بن حیدرا) is scheduled to resume on August 14. He has been charged with collaborating with Israel by working for the Universal House of Justice, the Bahai supreme governing institution, which is based in Haifa, Israel. It is also alleged 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. He has been detained since December 3, 2013, and has been tortured to extract a confession.

“The charges against Mr. bin Haydara are baseless and nonsensical and come after over a year of mistreatment, including solitary confinement, during which, privately, the authorities have repeatedly admitted their religious motives for the imprisonment,” said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “Mr. bin Haydara is a well-respected and sincere family man who has not broken any laws. Baha’is do not proselytize as a matter of principle, and all native Yemenis who have joined the Baha’i Faith have done so of their own conviction,” Ms. Dugal added.

“The accusation of spying for Israel is a grotesque distortion of reality,” said Ms. Dugal. “The historical circumstances that led to the establishment of the administrative and spiritual center of the Baha’i Faith occurred well before the existence of the State of Israel.”

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April 26, 2016

Trial of Hamed bin Haydara in Yemen suspended for two months


Bazdasht, April 25, 2016.

At the initial hearing of the case against Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, a Yemeni Bahai of Persian background, the Prosecutor asked for another two months to prepare the case, which was granted. Mr. bin Haydara has returned to prison in Sanaa. Although his health is deteriorating, bail was denied, and the Judge said the limited medical facilities within the prison would suffice. He has been charged 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. He has been detained since December 3, 2013. A previous report on this blog contains further details.

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February 4, 2015

Human Rights Watch calls on Yemen to release Hamed bin Haydara

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. (more…)

January 12, 2015

Bahai arrested in Yemen, more arrests expected (updated(2))

Haberler and other sources, January 12, 2015.

Hamid Kamal Mohammed bin Haidarah (حامد كمال محمد بن حيدرة), a Bahai of Persian background, is to stand trial in Yemen on charges of spying for Israel and seeking to spread the Bahai faith in Yemen. According to Yemen’s official news agency, he was interrogated by prosecutors in the capital Sana’a on Sunday. The prosecution has referred the case to the Specialized Penal Court in the capital Sana’a as a prelude to trial.

Mr. bin Haidarah is also referred to in the report as Hamid Mirza Kamali Sarvestani (حامد ميرزا كمالي سروستاني), indicating that his ancestors came from Sarvestan, in Iran. He lived in the Socotra archipelago and in al-Mukalla, a city near Hadhramaut. The news agency reported one prosecutor as saying that he was arrested in Al-Mukalla last year. He added that the man, 51, had settled in Al-Mukalla on the pretext of doing business in the city. Other suspects are being sought by the security services, according to a judicial source at Yemen’s Penal Prosecution office. He said [incorrectly] that Mr. Sarvestani entered Yemen in 1991, together with his father. The indictment stated that he had bought land with the intention of bringing a large number of Bahais to Yemen, and had worked with Israel, through the Universal House of Justice, to spread the Baha’i Faith. The prosecution explained that the accused has held a number of meetings and symposiums in several forums and in houses to encourage Baha’is and Yemenis to elect members of the National Spiritual Assembly and its branches in the provinces. He is also accused of inciting Muslims against Islam. The prosecution said in the indictment that his activities harm Yemen’s political status and its independence and territorial integrity.

Informed sources said that there is a significant number of Bahais in Yemen, and that some government hospitals have issued birth certificates in which Bahai is recognized as a religious identity, but that in many [Islamic] countries the Bahai Faith is considered a sect, not a religious identity. The Iranian Embassy told Saba news agency that Iran does not recognize the Bahai Faith as a religion.

[A written response to the accusations by Mr. bin Haidarah’s wife, in Arabic, is available here. There are earlier reports in Arabic here and here.]

Update, January 17: The Bahai World News Service has an updated report, which states that:

Mr. bin Haydara was in fact born on Socotra Island in Yemen and has lived in the country as a citizen. His father, a physician, moved to Yemen from Iran in the 1940s and was granted Yemeni citizenship by the Mahra Sultan of Qishn and Socotra, in recognition of his sterling service to the poor in society. Citizenship was naturally and rightfully passed down to his son. The Sultan gave Mr. bin Haydara’s father his Yemeni name as an honor and in recognition of his respect for his adopted country.

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