Total population 30 million. The U.S. government estimates 55 per cent of the population to be Sunni and 45 percent Zaydi. Jews, Bahá’ís, Hindus, and Christians, many of whom are refugees or temporary foreign residents, comprise less than 1 percent of the population. Christian groups include Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
The 2020 FCO report asserted that “Freedom of religion or belief was widely denied in 2019,” further noting that the Bahá’í minority was the most “visibly persecuted”. 2020 has seen significant developments in the situation of the Bahá’í community but other religious minorities have also faced repression.
In July 2020 the World Jewish Congress reported that Houthi authorities had arrested and imprisoned Yemeni Jews. A news article dated 21 August 2020, claimed that the Houthis “have recently ordered some of the country’s few remaining Jews to leave the country…”
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) the Yemeni Christian community once numbered 41,000. This report estimates that by 2020 this has shrunk to “a few thousand”, and in recent years Christians have faced arrest and detention and confiscation of religious materials.
Houthi authorities have referred to certain Sunni groups as “takfiri” (those who declare other Muslims as apostates) and have labelled some Sunnis as “spies” or “collaborators” with the Saudi-led coalition.
In March 2020 Amnesty International reported that a Houthi court had confirmed the death sentence in the case of Hamid bin Haydara, a Bahá’í imprisoned since 2013 and subject to torture and forced confession. Five other Bahá’ís were also imprisoned in Sana’a.
On 30 July the Bahá’í International Community confirmed that all six Bahá’í prisoners had been released. The Houthi President had ordered their release in March 2020, but these were not expedited until July. After their release, the six Bahá’ís were effectively exiled from the country. In August media reported on a further court hearing in Sana’a where the deported Bahá’ís were declared to be “fugitives” and demanded that they attend further court hearings.
The 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council adopted two resolutions on Yemen, (A/HRC/45/L.25) and (A/HRC/45/L.51), the latter making reference to freedom of religion or belief. The UK was not a voting member, but in addition to lobbying in support of these resolutions, the UK made specific reference to Yemen’s Bahá’ís during the discussion with the Group of Eminent Experts on 29 September 2020, stating: “We are particularly concerned by the persecution of members of minorities including the Bahá’ís in Houthi areas […]”
The people of Yemen continue to face war, famine, and disease. Human rights violations are being perpetrated in many areas, including abuses of freedom of religion or belief and this can manifest as discrimination or even persecution against Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahá’ís.
FCO Human Rights Report 2019
Freedom of religion or belief was widely denied in 2019. The Baha’i religious minority were the most visibly persecuted. There were cases of arbitrary detentions and the abuse of Baha’i detainees, including of Hamed bin Haydara, who was given a death sentence in 2018. We worked closely with our partners to raise these concerns directly with the Houthi authorities, and urged the release of detained individuals. We continued to follow the treatment of the Baha’is in Yemen closely, including through meeting their representatives in the UK.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
In the last 12 months, the freedom of religion or belief and wider human rights situation in Yemen appears to have declined due to the political entropy related to the lack of progress with security. The UN led peace process has not progressed substantially and there are continuing hostilities between the Yemeni government based in Aden and the Houthi movement who control Sana’a and much of the north of the country.
According to the FCO: “2018 saw attacks on freedom of religion or belief, attacks on freedom of speech, the violations of women’s human rights, the recruitment of child soldiers, and arbitrary detentions. Multiple parties across the country committed a wide range of human rights abuses and violations.”
The 2019 Open Doors World Watch List entry on Yemen describes the plight of the country’s Christians in the context of the humanitarian crisis. It says the crisis is “…making an already difficult nation, for Christians, even harder. The chaos of war has enabled radical groups to take control over some regions of Yemen, and they have increased persecution against Christians.”
There are believed to be only four officially recognised church buildings in the entire country, all located in Aden, and all have been damaged in the ongoing conflict. Neither the FCO nor USCIRF have reported any changes to the overall treatment of Christians. However, their community are believed to number several thousands, and are facing an extremely precarious existence. Previous reporting has highlighted the additional vulnerability of Christian converts during the ongoing humanitarian crisis, as much relief aid is distributed through mosques and organizations that prioritise those who identify as pious Muslims.
The FCO human rights report observes that “the right to freedom of religion or belief was widely denied in Yemen.” The report highlights the persecution and imprisonment of members of the Bahá’í community, and cites the case of Hamed bin Haydara, a Yemeni Bahá’i who remains under sentence of death since January 2018. Within the same reporting period, Andy Khawaja of USCIRF has adopted Mr bin Haydara as a prisoner of conscience. Other press releases from USCIRF in this period note that there other Bahá’ís imprisoned for their faith, and a further 22 individuals facing warrants for arrest on charges of “apostasy and espionage.”
The FCO report also notes that UK support was provided for resolutions on Yemen at the UN Human Rights Council. This multilateral scrutiny of human rights in general, and freedom of religion or belief in Yemen is welcome, but the challenge remains that the majority of the cases of persecution of Yemenis on the basis of freedom of religion or belief that have been documented by the FCO and USCIRF are occurring in the north of the country. This is in areas such as Sana’a and Hodeida, in territory that is under the control of the Houthi movement. The Houthis retain de facto control in much of the country but are not recognised as a legitimate government by the UN system and wider international community.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
“This year’s report shows that 2020 witnessed significant government restrictions on religious practice, as …
The All-Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] for International Freedom of Religion or Belief [FoRB] welcomes the …
The Church of England General Synod last week passed a motion supporting Freedom of Religion or Belief for all. The …
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its 2021 Annual Report …