USCIRF Releases Update on Religious Freedom Conditions in Yemen

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In USCIRF’s recent update on religious freedom in Yemen, analyst Scott Weiner focuses on trends of persecution against various religious populations. The Houthi movement, a “Zaidi Shi’a Muslim revivalism and education” movement, has repeatedly been engaged in conflict with Yemeni security authorities. Despite a ceasefire agreement with the national government in 2010, the Houthi movement has expanded its spheres of influence and has in some instances engaged in persecution against other religious minority communities and inflammatory and incendiary remarks:

“These political slogans indicate not only the explicit anti-Semitism that Houthi authorities promote in the servidce of their nationalist agenda, but also a broader trend of religious intolerance which restricts the religious freedom of non-Zaidi Yemenis from across a variety of religious affiliations and identities.”

The Sunni Muslim community in Yemen, despite its substantial population and peacefulness, have become targets of Houthi “sectarian rhetoric and symbolism to highlight and exacerbate religious differences” between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. Sunni Muslims who do not support the Houthi movement are declared as traitors and takfari (“those who declare other Muslims apostates”).

Yemen’s Christian community has suffered greatly, decreasing from some 41,000 years ago to only a few thousand, due to the outflow of Christians from Yemen amidst violent conflicts and persecution- “Yemeni authorities have detained and interrogated Christians on the basis of their faith and confiscated Christian religious material.” In addition to being targeted by state authorities, Yemeni Christians- including converts from Islam- faces similar, more violent threats from non-state actors such as ISIS.

Similarly to the Christian situation in Yemen, Jews have also experienced a decrease in religious population living inside the nation’s borders, and they remain relatively confined to Sa’ada, Amran, and Sana’a. As a result of extreme anti-Semitism and persecution of Jewish communities at the hands of the Houthi authorities, “only a small community of fewer than 50 Jews now remains in the country, after 17 of its members were secretly airlifted to Israel in 2016.”

The Baha’i community in Yemen does not exceed 2,000, but remains one of the most persecuted minority religious communities- Houthi leaders have made inflammatory remarks against the “infidel” Baha’is and embarked on a campaign to accuse them of colluding with and engaging in espionage for Israel. “In 2018, the Houthis arrested 24 Baha’is in Yemen on charges of espionage and apostasy, both of which are capital offenses.” USCIRF explains the situation in 2020 further:

“Throughout the first part of 2020, Houthi policy toward these Baha’i detainees has been contradictory and inconsistent. On March 22, a Houthi appeals court upheld a death sentence that was passed against bin Haydara [Baha’i leader accused of espionage] in January 2018. However, on March 25, Houthi Supreme Political Council head Mehdi al-Meshat announced in a speech that Mr. bin Haydara would be freed alongside the five other Baha’i detainees. Despite this announcement, the Houthi authorities have released none of the detained Baha’is, including Mr. bin Haydara.”

For original USCIRF report, click here.