The constitution declares Islam the state religion and sharia the source of all legislation. It provides for freedom of thought and expression “within the limits of the law,” but does not mention freedom of religion. The law prohibits denunciation of Islam, conversion from Islam to another religion, and proselytizing directed at Muslims. Conflict broke out in 2014 between the government, led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and Houthi-led Ansar Allah, a Zaydi Shia movement and continued through year’s end. The Houthis were allied with elements loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from the2014 coup until Saleh broke the alliance on December 2; Houthi rebels killed him on December 4. The Hadi-led government remained in exile and did not exercise effective control over much of the country’s territory. Air strikes on places of worship, religious institutions, and religious gatherings, which some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media attributed to progovernment forces, caused casualties and property damage, including a February airstrike killing six individuals participating in a funeral service.
Houthi rebels continued to control Sana’a and much of the north and west of the country. On March 17, Houthi rebels launched two rockets at a mosque inside a military camp in Marib Province, killing 22 persons. In April media reported a pro-Hadi-led government NGO organized protests in Taiz, Marib, and Aden Provinces in opposition to the targeting of mosques by Houthi forces. According to NGO reports, in April authorities in Sana’a issued arrest orders for at least 30 Bahais on charges related to their religion, including propagation of the Bahai Faith. The Houthi-controlled National Security Bureau (NSB) detained multiple Bahais in areas under its control. In late October Houthi security forces raided a Bahai gathering in Sana’a, arresting Akram Ayyash, the brother of one of those detained in April, Walid Ayyash. At year’s end, the whereabouts of Walid Ayyash and seven other Bahais detained in April were unknown. Terrorist attacks by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS continued. In September unidentified militants released Indian Catholic priest Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped during an attack on a nursing home in Aden in March 2016.
According to press reports, an unknown gunman killed a law student in Aden in May because of his membership in a cultural club established by secularists. Local armed forces blocked the funeral procession to prevent the student’s burial in the city cemetery. Anti-Semitic material continued to appear in print. Jewish community members reported their declining numbers made it difficult to sustain their religious practices.
The Ambassador, not resident in the country, met with officials of the Hadi-led government in Riyadh and discussed the hurdles minority religious communities faced, including scrutiny by Houthis, displacement from homes and businesses, and targeting by violent extremist groups.