There were reports of abuses of religious freedom and the government sporadically enforced legal and policy restrictions on religious freedom.
In November authorities arrested a 43-year-old civil service employee and charged him with apostasy for posting his academic writings and interpretations of the Quran on social media. The prosecutor sought the death penalty, but the authorities subsequently released the defendant unconditionally. He reported that he expected his case to be dismissed. The Press and Publications Court did not issue a verdict by year’s end.
Some Zaydis continued to report government harassment and discrimination, including detention, based on allegations of sympathizing with the Houthis rebel group. Zaydi activists also reported that the authorities released most of those detained but held others, either because of their religious affiliation or connections to sectarian fighting. The government asserted it detained these individuals only on the basis of their violent activities.
Although there were no specific reports of forced religious conversion, Zaydi community advocates alleged some Zaydi soldiers reported significant pressure to convert to Sunni Islam while in the military. However, most Zaydis who joined the moderate Islamist Islah party regarded themselves as Sunni.
The national consensus government eased restrictions on Houthi religious practices. Some Zaydi leaders alleged there was a government effort to insert Salafi traditions, mosques, and imams into traditionally Zaydi regions, but government policies generally did not interfere with Zaydi religious expression. In contrast to previous practice, government officials did not characterize the Houthis as adherents of Twelver Shiism, the variant of Shiism dominant in Iran.
Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian weekly religious services took place without government interference throughout Sanaa, Aden, and other cities. 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 government issued residence visas to Roman Catholic priests and nuns.
The two largest political parties both drew on Islam as a basis for law in their platforms. The General People’s Congress (GPC) did not exclude members of any religion from its membership. The moderate Islamist Islah party, dominant member of the Joint Meetings Party (JMP) alliance, required that a member be “committed” to Islamic teachings. The JMP itself did not impose a religious test. The newly established Salafi political party Rashad required members to support its conservative Islamist platform. Members of the small al-Haq and al-Umma parties were mainly adherents of Zaydi Islam, although their platforms were not focused on religion. There were other minor political parties said to be Islamic in nature, although it was not clear if they restricted their membership to Muslims.
The government continued efforts to prevent the politicization of mosques and schools, and continued to pursue policies designed to curb extremism and increase religious tolerance. The government monitored mosques for sermons that incited violence or espoused political statements considered harmful to public security. The government permitted private Islamic organizations to maintain ties to international Islamic organizations, but reportedly sporadically monitored their activities through the police and intelligence services.
According to Zaydi leaders, the government ceased to ban or restrict materials espousing Zaydi-Shia Islam doctrine, a common practice in previous years. The government approved permits for Zaydi libraries and book clubs.
In 2007, the Catholic Church asked the government for a small plot of land in Sanaa on which to build a church. By year’s end, the government had not provided formal authorization for the transfer of the land title, although it was not clear whether religion played a role in the delay because all land transfers were notoriously contentious and slow. The government permitted unhindered use of existing church buildings.
The government continued efforts to close unlicensed schools and religious centers, expressing concern that they deviated from formal educational requirements and promoted militant ideology. Islah’s participation in the national consensus government eased pressure on Islamist institutions, although the Ministry of Religious Endowments (al-Awqaf) reportedly continued to evaluate these schools and close those deemed to be a potential security threat. The government did not maintain strong oversight over curriculum and instruction at schools in Houthi-controlled areas in the north.
Customs and ministry of culture officials occasionally confiscated foreign publications after determining they were “religiously objectionable.” Citing security concerns, the government continued to restrict and intermittently block access to some Internet forums and blogs where religious views and opinions were openly exchanged and shared.
The national political dialogue distinguished between inclusion of Jews as citizens and opposition to Israeli policies. Security guards occasionally restricted individuals from visiting Jewish residents of Tourist City, a Sanaa housing development. It was not clear whether government policy directed the restriction.