What's Happening in Parliament

Today in Parliament Bob Blackman asked an Urgent Question following the death sentence that had been handed down to Hamed bin Haydara, a member of the Ba'hai community in Saana on 2 January. (https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-01-11/debates/6A660750-6EA2-4462-93E6-7758C7DB7A88/HamedBinHaydara)

Bob Blackman (Harrow East)
'' I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. Members right across the House have concerns about the denial of freedom of religion and belief for people of all faiths and none. The threat to execute Hamed bin Haydara constitutes a grave risk to the life of an innocent man—a father of three—and would accelerate the climate of persecution against the wider Bahá’í community in Yemen as a whole.

Mr bin Haydara was arrested in December 2013 and has been subjected to torture, beating and electrocution. He has been forced to sign confessions under duress. More than half of the nearly 40 court hearings on his case have been cancelled, raising serious questions about whether there has been any due process. He has been denied treatment for medical conditions that came about as a direct result of the torture inflicted on him. He was not even permitted to be present at the court hearing when he was sentenced to death.

I have a series of questions for my right hon. Friend to answer, if he can. Have the UK Government any further lines of communication for making representations to the Houthi authorities, who hold the power in Sana’a? I am advised that the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is taking up the case and is in Geneva today. What pressure will he be able to apply at the UN on the Houthis and their backers to persuade them to release this innocent man? How much is known about the situation of other Bahá’ís imprisoned in Sana’a? They are reported to be Keyvan Ghaderi, Walid Ayyash, Mahmood Humaid, Wael al-Arieghie, Badiullah Sana’i and Akram Ayyash. They have all been detained recently and are under threat.

Will the Minister also say what measures can be taken in respect of reports that senior figures in the national security office and the prosecutor’s office are receiving instructions from Iran to persecute the Bahá’í community? The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief has observed
“the persistent pattern of persecution of the Bahá’í community”.

If the Minister can answer those questions, the whole House will be deeply grateful.

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Merton)

First, I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend for raising this subject. It is always proper for matters of individual justice of this sort to be raised in the House. Opposing the persecution of religious minorities is a very high priority for the Foreign Office and our diplomatic efforts as we enter this year.

The Bahá’í faith has been persecuted for the best part of one and a half centuries; the situation described by my hon. Friend is, sadly, a further example of that phenomenon. Although Mr bin Haydara is neither a British national nor an employee of any organisation related to Her Majesty’s Government, that does not in any way diminish our indignation at what is happening and our wish to try to defend his interests and see him released. To that end, we are, of course, also in close contact with the Bahá’í community in London about this case and the wider situation of Bahá’ís in Yemen.

My hon. Friend asked a number of questions that are very difficult to answer in the context of Yemen, which is essentially a failing state. Mr bin Haydara is held not by the official Government but by the Houthis, who are deemed to be the insurgent force in Yemen and are essential to any successful political outcome the likes of which we are trying to pursue. Getting further lines in to the Houthis on a particular case such as this is therefore extremely difficult—it is difficult, of course, to engage them even in the main thrust of the political solution we would like to see in Yemen. To that end, as my hon. Friend says, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East is in Geneva today helping to corral the collective effort that we hope can increase and optimise our influence in this case and on the future of Yemen itself.

We estimate that there are about 2,000 Bahá’ís in Yemen, and to identify the fate of any individual within that large number is very difficult. We do not have direct diplomatic representation in Sana’a or the sort of detailed engagement with the Houthis that would be necessary to address such issues. It is undeniable that Iranian influence has been drawn into Yemen more than was the case five years ago, when the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative sought a replacement for then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The current President, President Hadi, has, I am afraid, very little influence over such cases. I very much hope, therefore, that the Iranians will use their efforts to go for justice rather than the persecution of people such as Mr bin Haydara.