A call to protect the Baha’i minority in Yemen

At the UN this week, Justin Trudeau said Canada will stand up for minorities around the world. As Yemen’s sham trials against Baha’is intensify, an international group calls for action.

By: /
September 27, 2018
Bahai's in Yemen
A member of the Baha'i Faith demonstrates outside a state security court during a hearing in the case of a fellow Baha'i man in Sana'a, Yemen, April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

It is now increasingly recognized that Iran has exported its revolutionary objectives to Yemen’s Houthi authorities and infected them with the desire to threaten and effectively eradicate its Baha’i community — a religious minority group found in both countries.

The Baha’i Faith, which originated in Iran, has more than six million members around the world, including 2,000 in Yemen and far more in Iran, where they have been persecuted for decades.  

This week, as an international group of lawyers and human rights experts, we are urging Canada and other governments to call for the release of wrongfully imprisoned Baha’is in Yemen, and the dropping of fabricated charges against others recently charged. We are troubled by the pattern of persecution in Yemen and the lack of due process afforded Baha’i men, women and children who have been targeted by the Houthi authorities.

As Canada ramps up its campaign for a UN Security Council seat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated just days ago that he will “call out the unfair treatment” of minorities, girls and women. He should do that here. His actions are urgently needed in advance of a key court date on September 29, when the unfair trial of 24 Baha’is will start in earnest with a potentially devastating outcome.

The recent trial of Yemeni Baha’i Hamed bin Haydara indicates how events may unfold. Five years ago, he was arrested on unfounded charges, and has been tortured, beaten, electrocuted, denied urgent medical attention and faced dozens of postponed and cancelled court hearings. In January, he was sentenced to death by public execution by the Houthi-controlled Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a in absentia. Outrageously, the same court verdict called for the confiscation of all his assets on the one hand, and the dissolution of all Baha’i assemblies in Yemen on the other, intermingling the sentencing of one man with a poorly disguised effort to eradicate a whole religious minority community.

Now, 24 more Baha’is face the same courts. On September 15, a court hearing was held to initiate legal proceedings against the group, which includes men, women, and a teenage girl. Amnesty International has warned that the charges they face could result in the death penalty.

"Trudeau's actions are urgently needed in advance of a key court date on September 29, when the unfair trial of 24 Baha’is will start."

This follows a pattern of serious violations targeting the Baha’is and their activities in Houthi-controlled Yemen, one instance in August 2016 seeing the arrest of over 60 men, women and children at an educational conference open to all held by the Baha’i-inspired Nida Foundation.

The false accusations against the Baha’is by the Houthi authorities in the country are conspicuously recycled from Iran; alleging, for instance, that they are conducting espionage for Israel, and that they are a ‘cell’ of foreign powers with subversive intentions threatening national security.

To the contrary, it is the Houthi authorities themselves who are instigating and inciting, and disturbing security. As the Baha’i International Community reported, it was the Houthi leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi who — in rhetoric reminiscent of the statements made by the Supreme Leaders of Iran — gave a speech in late March warning Yemenis of the “satanic” Baha’i “movement” that is “waging a war of doctrine” against Islam; describing Baha’is as infidels, and deniers of Islam and the Prophet Muḥammad; falsely accusing them of political entanglements with Western countries and Israel; and calling on Yemenis to defend their country against the Baha’is and members of other religious minorities under the pretext: “those who destroy the faith of people are no less evil and dangerous than those who kill people with their bombs.” This was followed by a prominent Houthi writer and strategist who posted on Twitter that “we will butcher every Baha’i.”

The devastating human rights conditions in Yemen, which has experienced civil war since 2015, are only compounded by this egregious incitement and imported religious persecution targeting a portion of the country’s well-meaning citizens. A lack of due process is not a consequence of either war or famine — and neither is religious persecution. These failings must be urgently addressed and this travesty halted at the next court session this Saturday, September 29.

Mr Ignacio de Casas, Centro Latinoamericano de Derechos Humanos, Argentina
Dr Roja Fazaeli, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Ms Bernadette Ficq, Blaauw Advocaten, Netherlands
Mr Gehan Gunatilleke, human rights lawyer, Sri Lanka
Professor (Dr) Rajiv Khanna, Director & Dean, SGT University, Gurugram
Professor Merilin Kiviorg, University of Tartu, Estonia
Professor Tahir Mahmood, Distinguished Jurist Chair, Amity University, India
Mr Kyle Matthews, Executive Director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
Professor Errol P Mendes, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, President of ICJ Canadian Section, Canada
Ms Shirin Milani, Judge, Province of Overijssel, Netherlands
Professor Gabriel A Moens, Emeritus Professor of Law, The University of Queensland, Australia
Professor Michael Quinlan, Dean, School of Law, Sydney The University of Notre Dame, Australia
Professor Sanoj Rajan, Indian Society of International Law
Professor (Dr) Srikrishna Deva Rao Vice-Chancellor, National Law University, Odisha, India
Professor Pamela Slotte, Associate Professor, Åbo Akademi University, Finland
Professor René Smits, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Professor Carsten Stahn, Leiden University Grotius Centre, The Hague, Netherlands
Mr T.K Tobin QC, Adjunct Professor, Australian Catholic University, Australia
Professor Renata Uitz, Central European University, Hungary
Professor Harmen van der Wilt, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Professor Stu Woolman, Elizabeth Bradley Chair of Ethics, Governance and Sustainable Development, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Professor Liesbeth Zegveld, Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers, Netherlands