There were reports of abuses of religious freedom in the country.
The government sporadically enforced legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom. Low-level hostilities between the Houthis and the government’s tribal proxies continued early in the year, although clashes between Houthis and non-governmental Salafis became more prominent through the year.
The government maintained that the Houthis are adherents of Twelver Shiism, a variant of Shiism that differs from that of the country’s predominant Zaydi Shia school of Islam. Houthi leaders generally denied the contention, claiming to be Zaydi Shia. The Houthis follow the teachings of the late cleric Hussein Badr Eddine al-Houthi, who was killed during a 10-week rebellion in 2004 against the government in Saada. Some Zaydis continued to report harassment and discrimination by the government because they were suspected of sympathizing with the Houthis. Human rights groups reported that hundreds of Zaydis remained in jail because of their religious affiliation and not because they had any connection to the fighting. The government denied this, claiming that individuals were detained for violent activities. It appeared the government’s actions against the group were politically, not religiously, motivated.
Although there were no specific reports of forced religious conversion, according to Zaydi community advocates, some Zaydi soldiers reportedly felt significant pressure to convert to Sunni Islam while in the military.
Government actions to counter an increase in political violence in Saada restricted some religious practices. Government officials reportedly limited the hours that Houthi mosques were permitted to be open to the public. The government maintained that it was only enforcing existing tradition that mosques should be used primarily for prayer and not for political activities. The government continued to close what it claimed to be extremist Shia religious institutes, reassigned imams it deemed to have espoused radical doctrine, and continued to monitor mosque sermons. Local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the government replaced Zaydi imams with Sunni (including Salafi) imams in mosques throughout northern Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa. Some Zaydi leaders claimed that elements in the government were engaged in a concerted effort to insert Salafi traditions, mosques, and imams into traditionally Zaydi regions.
Weekly services for Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians were held throughout Sanaa, Aden, and other cities without government interference. Throughout the country Christians and Jews held services regularly in private homes or facilities such as schools without harassment, and such facilities appeared adequate to accommodate the small numbers involved.
The two largest political parties, the General People’s Congress (GPC) and the moderate Islamist Islah party, both drew on Islam as a basis for law in their platforms. The ruling GPC did not exclude members of any religion from its membership. Islah required that a member must be “committed” to Islamic teachings. There were other minor political parties that were said to be Islamic in nature, although it was not clear if they restricted their membership to Muslims.
During the year the government continued its efforts to prevent the politicization of mosques and schools, as well as to curb extremism and increase religious tolerance. The government’s efforts concentrated on monitoring mosques for sermons that incited violence or espoused political statements it considered harmful to public security. Private Islamic organizations could maintain ties to international Islamic organizations; however, the government sporadically monitored their activities through the police and intelligence services.
According to human rights groups, the Ministry of Culture and the Political Security Office (PSO) monitored and sometimes removed from stores printed materials that espoused Zaydi-Shia doctrine. There were also reports from Zaydi scholars and politicians that authorities continued to ban the publishing of some materials that promoted Zaydi-Shia Islam.
The Catholic Church requested from the government a small plot of land in Sanaa on which to build a Catholic church. At the end of the year the church was still awaiting formal authorization for the transfer of the land title initiated in 2007.
Government policy generally did not prohibit or punish the possession of non-Islamic religious literature for personal use; however, reports existed during the year that foreign individuals in possession of amounts of non-Islamic religious materials deemed too large for personal use were expelled from the country, ostensibly to prevent proselytizing.
The government continued efforts to close unlicensed schools and religious centers. In 2005 the Ministry of Religious Endowments (al-Awqaf) conducted a study that assessed that there were 4,568 unlicensed religious schools and institutions. The government expressed concern that these schools deviated from formal educational requirements and promoted militant ideology. During the year, the al-Awqaf reportedly continued the process of evaluating these schools and closing those deemed to be potentially contributing to a security threat. The government prohibited some private and national schools from teaching courses outside the officially approved curriculum, ostensibly to curb ideological and violent extremism and intolerance in schools. Human rights organizations reported, and the government denied, that the ministry distributed grade school textbooks that described the Zaydi manner of prayer as incorrect.