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Forgotten suffering of Baha’i minority in Yemen

A leading member of the Baha'i faith has been imprisoned and tortured in Yemen under vague accusations of spying. He should be freed

“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch, and the drops of one sea.” (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas)

I opened my Google browser and started searching, as I wanted to know more about the Baha’i faith. Throughout my life, I have met with only three Baha’i women. The first was the friend of a relative of mine: she and her family had fled the prevailing racism in Iran during the 1990s and had found refuge in Yemen. I was too young and too naive back then, and all I knew about my relative’s friend, the Baha’i girl, was that she was a nice girl who was affiliated with a different religion than ours.

Years went by and I met with another Baha’i, a woman with an angelic temperament who had lived in Yemen for about 15 tears. She and her husband had left Yemen due to the latest war there and when she learned I was visiting in Dubai, she wanted us to meet. We talked about Yemen and I could sense, from the tears shimmering in her eyes, how much she loved this country.

She also told me about Hamed Kamal Haidara, a man who has been under arrest since 2013, saying that they would rather not publicise his case, which was referred to as a misunderstanding to be resolved amicably without embarrassing the government and raising the ire of fanatics there. Out of respect for her wishes, I did not write about Hamed.

Baha’is in Yemen are active, for the most part, in the field of medicine and engineering. They played an important role in building bridges in the capital, Sanaa. Although they did nothing to deserve accusations of treason or imprisonment, the authorities started harassing them in 2008 as four Baha’is were arrested. Following their release, most of them left Yemen according to Hamed’s wife who decided to go public with her story.

Her husband had been imprisoned for three years when the defence in the case went as far as to request the death penalty. Elham decided to be silent no more and to talk to the media. “About 1,000 Bahai’s – or even more – live in Yemen. My husband and I are Yemeni nationals,” she said. “Dr Kamal, my father-in-law, came to the island of Socotra in southern Yemen as the private physician of Socotra’s Sultan Issa ibn Ali ibn Afrar. The Sultan decided to reward him for his loyalty by granting him the Yemeni nationality. The family settled in Socotra until the Communist regime took over in southern Yemen, hence the decision to leave for the United Arab Emirates.”

In 1990, she went on, “Hamed, Dr Kamal’s son, decided to go back and work in Yemen. We lived there safely all those years until the harassment started in 2008. The Baha’is were accused of being Israeli spies because our holy Baha’i shrine and the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, i.e. our Baha’i leadership, are located in Occupied Palestine. Our presence in Palestine goes way back, many years before the creation of the State of Israel… we cannot be spies because our religion bans us from undertaking any political activity.” To back her statements, Elham quoted the following religious texts:

“None must contend with those who wield authority over the people; leave unto them that which is theirs, and direct your attention to men’s hearts.” (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: paragraph 95)

“None shall act in a manner that goes against the heads of state’s opinion.” (Amr wa Khalq vol. 3, p. 270)

I listened to Elham telling me about the day when security forces came over to search their house without any official state warrant. “They took our books and our computers. At the time, I felt that my husband, who used to work in the town of Balhaf, had been arrested and that he was in danger.”

Elham later learned that her husband had been arrested by National Security who nonetheless denied that they were detaining him. She would go there with his medication as he suffered from diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure and kidney stones. The officers would take the medication, telling her they did not know whether or not her husband was there. Afterward, he was taken to the central prison, where he was allowed to communicate with his wife and sons.

Hamed went through extensive torture in jail, not to mention the insults levelled at his wife when she visited him. “My husband is an engineer in Balhaf, which – as you know – is an uninhabited region. So what is there to spy on? What proof is there of his spying? All they found is our religious books. I don’t know what gave them the right to inflict this injustice upon my husband and throw him in the same cell with terrorists.”

Jawad Mabrouki wrote an article on CNNArabic about Hamed, whom he met in prison when he visited Yemen in order to conduct a psychological study on prisoners’ behavior for a human rights organisation. Mabrouki described him as follows: “Every day in prison, we noticed a man walking with crutches. He had a white beard despite his young age. He was mindful about hygiene, demure, kind, polite, helpful and exuding good and love.” Indeed, this is Hamed who is now imprisoned with criminals, his sole crime being his professing a religion that calls for love and peace.

“Your compassionate God likes to see those in the Universes as one soul and one body.” – Hazrat Baha'u'llah

- Hind Al Eryani is a Yemeni writer and radio anchor. She previously led a campaign against Qat and is currently campaigning for peace in Yemen.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Yemeni security stand guard on the roof of the court house in the capital Sanaa, on 29 December, 2013 (AFP).