The current constitution does not specifically protect religious freedom, while other laws, policies, and government practices restrict it. The constitution declares that Islam is the state religion and sharia (Islamic law) is the source of all legislation. Elected officials, other than the president, may be non-Muslims. The constitution generally allows Muslims of different groups and followers of religious groups other than Islam to worship according to their beliefs. However, the government prohibits conversion from Islam and efforts to proselytize Muslims. The transitional government under which former president Saleh left office took steps towards establishing new mechanisms to defend religious diversity. Within the National Dialogue Conference, an inclusive framework for deliberating a broad range of issues related to Yemen’s political future, the government established the Rights and Freedoms Working Group to develop recommendations for provisions in a future constitution and bylaws. The working group’s recommendations include measures to protect against religious discrimination, greater safeguards for religious minorities, decriminalization of blasphemy, and new academic curricula designed to promote respect for other religions. During the year terrorist groups, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), continued to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the country, characterizing their actions as warfare against apostates.
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Leading Salafi religious figures used accusations of apostasy to target political activists, journalists, bloggers, academics, and human rights defenders. Despite a historically amicable relationship between the Zaydi-Shia and Shafi-Sunni communities, sectarian rhetoric weakened inter-communal trust. Moreover, aggressive expansion strategies on the part of both Sunni and Zaydi-Shia Muslim groups fueled inter-sectarian tensions and conflict which escalated in the northern governorate of Sa’ada and the surrounding governorates at the end of the year, resulting in more than 300 deaths in Sa’ada, Kitaf, Amran, and other areas of conflict.
Embassy and other U.S. officials routinely discussed religious freedom issues with the government and civil society. The embassy also continued to support interfaith dialogue outreach, including sending religious leaders to the United States through exchange programs to broaden interfaith understanding and promote societal support for religious freedom. The embassy continued programs aimed at expanding outreach to local religious leaders. Efforts included English language scholarships for religious leaders and facilitating mosque visits and meetings with local imams for official U.S. visitors. The aim was to open channels of dialogue to promote freedom of religion and societal tolerance for religious diversity.