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Baha'i community fears deportations as Yemen sentence looms

A view of the historic quarter of Sanaa in 2015 (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

Washington (AFP) - The Baha'i community voiced fear Monday that a court under Yemen's Huthi rebels could order the mass expulsion of members of the faith.

The community said that an appeals court in Yemen's capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the insurgents, is expected to rule Tuesday on a death sentence handed down on religious grounds to Hamed bin Haydara, a Baha'i detained since 2013.

Citing statements by the prosecutor, the Baha'i International Community said it feared the judge would not only uphold the execution but order the deportation of Baha'is from Yemen.

"By such a ruling, he would target and threaten an entire religious community in Yemen -- which wishes for nothing more than to contribute to its nation's progress," Diane Ala'i, a representative of the community to the United Nations, said in a statement.

She warned Baha'is could face "statelessness and expulsion, confiscation of assets and threat of extermination in the country."

Sam Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, voiced concern about reports that the Huthis were looking to deport the Baha'is or seize their assets.

"We urge them to release arbitrarily detained Baha'is like Hamed bin Haydara and respect religious freedom," he tweeted earlier this month.

Several thousand Baha'is -- members of the 19th century faith founded by the Iranian-born Baha'u'llah that calls for unity among religions and equality between men and women -- are estimated to live in Yemen.

The Huthis are allied with Iran's Shiite clerical regime, which restricts the rights of Baha'is despite allowing freedom of religion for Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Baha'is consider the Baha'u'llah to be a prophet, a sharp contrast from the orthodox Islamic view that Mohammed was God's final messenger.

Huthis control much of Yemen despite a US-backed military campaign led by Saudi Arabia, which has contributed to what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.