Since March 2015 the government has been engaged in a military conflict with Houthi rebels and with forces loyal to former President Saleh. The rebels established control over Sana’a in September 2014 and expanded their control to take over large portions of the country. Following house arrests and other measures taken by the Houthis against government members, senior government officials fled and reconstituted the country’s government in Saudi Arabia, where it requested assistance from Saudi Arabia and other states in the region to defeat the rebels. The civil conflict has been accompanied by sectarian violence. Terrorist groups, including AQAP and ISIS, have continued to contribute to the violence.
On March 4, four gunmen, whom media reported were suspected of being members of an ISIS-affiliated group, killed four nuns from the Missionaries of Charity during an attack on their nursing home in Aden. The nuns were among 16 civilians killed by the gunmen in the attack. The militants destroyed all Christian symbols and liturgical articles within the home. In the attack on the Christian nursing home, militants kidnapped Father Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian priest. On December 25, the militants released a video purportedly showing Uzhunnalil still in captivity and asking for help. He remained missing at the end of the year and it was unclear if he was still alive. Negotiations for his release continued.
On August 10, armed officers from the country’s Houthi-controlled National Security Bureau (NSB), operating alongside Houthi rebels, stormed a Bahai youth workshop in Sana’a and arrested approximately 65 people. According to media and NGO reports, they imprisoned these individuals for varying amounts of time, without charges, family visits, or legal aid. The majority of the captives were released within days. The reports stated the Houthi security officials required some detainees to sign pledges indicating they would not participate in Bahai activities or practice the Bahai Faith outside of their homes as a condition of their release. On November 27, the authorities released two of the remaining detained Bahai community members. One individual remained in custody at year’s end.
Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, a Bahai community member imprisoned by the NSB since December 2013 and previously accused of apostasy, proselytizing, and spying for Israel, remained in detention. In a February 28 court hearing, the prosecutor indicated that he was seeking capital punishment. Subsequent hearings did not result in a verdict, and bin Haydara remained in custody at year’s end. Human Rights Watch reported that when bin Haydara’s wife met with one of the judges presiding over the case he threatened her with prison because of her Bahai faith and said, “all Bahais should be in prison.”
The media reported in April Rabbi Yahia Youssef Yaish was arrested and interrogated in Sana’a by Houthi rebels based on allegations he helped smuggle an 800-year-old scroll to Israel.
According to the Bahais of the United States, an umbrella group representing Bahais in the United States, the Houthi-controlled NSB carried out several simultaneous raids of Bahai homes, the Bahai Center in Sana’a, and the office of the Neda Foundation, an NGO, on September 4. According to the NGO, the NSB entered two homes and the Bahai Center and thoroughly searched them without a warrant. They removed all personal computers, phones and SIM cards, and tablet computers. The police arrested all persons who were in the office. Afterwards the police sealed the Bahai Center’s doors. As of the end of the year, the center had not been reopened. The NGO also reported that the office of Neda Foundation for Coexistence and Constructive Building, a Bahai community service organization, was also raided, and all individuals found at the location were arrested.
Militants raided a girls school in Aden on March 8, to give “a last warning” to the students who had not yet adopted the imposed clothing rules detailed in leaflets signed by Yemeni affiliates of ISIS. The leaflet contained death threats addressed to Jews, Christians, and infidels “who dare to continue to wear indecent clothing.” The pamphlet stated, among other things, “We will kill anyone who violates the law of God.”
In northern areas traditionally under Zaydi control, there were reports of continued Houthi efforts to impose their religious customs on non-Zaydi residents, including by banning music and requiring women to wear full veils.
During the year, there were reports of Houthi rebels pressuring imams at Sunni mosques to deliver prescribed sermons; compliance was reportedly mixed. In addition, Houthi minders reportedly pressed worshipers at Sunni mosques to sign political petitions protesting the Arab-led coalition campaign against Houthi-Saleh rebels.
Houthi Ansar Allah leader Abd al-Malik al-Houthi alleged Israeli involvement in the Saudi-led coalition campaign against Houthi rebels in speeches featuring anti-Semitic slogans.
The media reported Houthi militias vandalized some mosques, such as the Tawhid Mosque in Taiz, in areas under its control.