Background

The Baha’i Community in Yemen:
A brief history of the recent persecution and Iranian involvement

May 2017 [Updated January 2018]

The history of the Yemeni Baha’i community traces its roots to the dawn of the Baha’i Faith. The Báb, the Herald of the Baha’i Faith, during His travels to Mecca in the mid-19th century, stopped at the port of Al-Mocha, which is located in present-day Yemen, and revealed Tablets for His followers.

The number of Baha’is has grown in recent decades as various segments of Yemeni society have learned about and become attracted to the Baha’i teachings. Most significantly, a group of Yemeni tribesmen discovered the Baha’i Faith on the Internet and began following the Baha’i teachings independently. They invited many of their friends and other members of their tribes to their activities. Members of Yemeni tribes, including some of their prominent figures, have subsequently increasingly identified themselves as Baha’is and have been striving to apply its ideals to their individual and collective lives.

Although accurate statistics are not available, it is estimated that there are now a few thousand Yemeni Baha’is. All are loyal citizens to their country representing its rich and diverse culture and living in both urban and rural settings including cities such as Sana’a, Taiz, Hudayda, Ebb, Aden, Mukalla, Dhale, Shabwa, and the Socotra Islands.

Despite living through a turbulent period of civil conflict in Yemen, the Yemeni Baha'is have refused to side with one group or another and have instead endeavoured to serve all people, placing particular emphasis on youth who are eager to dedicate their energies to the regeneration of their society through service to all. Baha’is have notably contributed to the betterment of Yemen in various fields including construction, medicine, tribal reconciliation, education, humanitarian and disaster relief. More recently, representatives of the Yemeni Baha’i community have met with hundreds of government officials, tribal elders, university professors, journalists, human rights activists, and diplomats in order to further strengthen their ties with Yemeni society and explain their non-partisan concerns for the welfare of each and all.

Recent incidents

Although the Yemeni Baha’i community has maintained cordial relations with the authorities and Yemeni society in general over the years, the Baha’i community has also faced challenges, which are sharply accelerating.

In 2008, under the Presidency of Mr. Abdullah Ali Saleh, authorities detained six Baha’is in connection with their faith and eventually deported two of them.

In 2013, Mr. Hamed Kamal bin Haydara was imprisoned by the authorities in Sana’a, Yemen, and was accused of various unfounded charges including acting as a spy for Israel.

In August 2016, authorities in Sana’a arrested over 60 men, women, and children at an educational conference organized by the Nida Foundation for Development and the Baha’i community of Yemen, raided the homes of Baha’is and seized their phones and documents, including passports, and pressured relatives and friends to pay for the prisoners’ release.

In April 2017, the authorities called for the arrest of over 25 Baha’is under similar accusations such as showing kindness and displaying rectitude of conduct in order to attract people to their Faith. Reports indicate that many individuals on the arrest list are prominent members of the Baha’i community who assist with the organization of the community’s affairs.

As of 12 May, five Baha’is in Sana’a and Hudaydah were imprisoned, including a notable Yemeni tribal leader, Mr. Walid Ayyash, while the rest were in hiding.

On 22 October 2017, Yemini security forces raided a Baha’i gathering in Sana’a yesterday, opening fire on the small group of people assembled to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah. The attack occurred in the family home of prominent tribal leader Walid Ayyash, who was abducted in April and whose whereabouts are currently unknown. The attackers were reportedly in four cars and an armored vehicle, which they used to break down the front door of the house. They arrested Mr. Ayyash’s brother, Akram Ayyash.

On 2 January 2018, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a, Yemen, issued a ruling unprecedented in the persecution of the Baha’is in Yemen. Sentencing Mr. Hamed bin Haydara to death due to his religious beliefs, the judge furthermore called for the dissolution of all Baha’i Assemblies, thereby placing other Baha’i prisoners as well as the Baha’i community as a whole in imminent danger.

Iranian involvement

Multiple independent sources have, since 2016 and through their conversations with various officials in Yemen, repeatedly confirmed that Iranian authorities are directing efforts to persecute the Baha’is in Yemen, which has included pressure to deport those of Iranian descent to Iran.

Notwithstanding the fact that a few other fair-minded Houthi authorities have behaved in favor of the Baha’is, a few specific individuals, namely those referred to as Abu Taha, the head of the National Security Office (or “Bureau” in UN reports) and Abu Emad, the Deputy-Head of the same Office as well as Mr. Rajeh Zayed from the Prosecutor’s Office, have displayed antithetical behaviours against the Baha’is and are reported to be receiving instructions from Iran in order to persecute the Baha’i community. In addition to these specifically named individuals, the authorities in Iran and those presently ruling in Sana’a are held accountable for supporting and consenting to blatant acts of persecution against the Baha’is in Yemen.

Iranian involvement in the persecution of the Baha’is in Yemen is consistent with a general policy aimed at dealing with “The Baha’i Question” as outlined in a once secret 1991 government memorandum.

That memorandum, endorsed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, outlines a wide range of economic, educational, and social measures aimed at “blocking the development” of the Iranian Baha’is. It also explicitly states the intention of Iranian authorities to “confront and destroy their [the Baha’is] cultural roots outside the country [Iran]” (To read the memorandum, click here.).

Additionally, the various forms of persecution experienced by Yemeni Baha’is bear a striking resemblance to what the Baha’is of Iran have experienced in their country, such as the bogus accusation, used when Baha’is are arrested, that they are somehow a threat to national security.

Furthermore, there are indications that Iranian authorities have demonstrated prejudicial behaviours against the Baha’is in other countries outside of Iran. Finally, many reports in the general media strongly suggest Iran’s involvement in the conflict taking place in Yemen.