The internationally-recognized Yemeni government currently controls only part of the nation; an uprising led by the Houthis captured much of the country, including its capital, in 2014. In Houthi territory, religious minorities can reportedly face brutal repression and reprisals. Under the legislation of the internationally-recognized government, meanwhile, blasphemy is punishable with imprisonment and apostasy with death. The population is almost entirely Muslim and the state's official religion is Islam, with much legislation, including the apostasy law, taking direct inspiration from Islamic religious law—as prescribed by the constitution.

History of Blasphemy & Apostasy Laws

Islam arrived c. 630, and from then on was ruled by successive Zaydi dynasties. In 1538, and again in the 19th century, parts of former North Yemen came under Ottoman rule. The southern half, including the city Aden, became part of British India, and eventually a colony in its own right in 1839. From 1918, North Yemen was controlled by Zaydi imams. After British withdrawal in 1967, former Southern Yemen was governed by Marxist paramilitary group the National Liberation Front. The two Yemeni halves, alternately backed by Russia and would clash in a series of wars throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The country would only become united as the Republic of Yemen in 1990.

Article 194 of the 1994 Penal Code codified the punishment of “ridicule of religion” with up to three years' imprisonment or a fine. Article 195 increased this punishment to up to five years if Islam is the subject of ridicule. Distorting the Qur’an also got its own specific punishment under Article 260, with up to five years imprisonment or a fine. Article 261 punishes the destruction or misrepresentation of a mosque or place of religious ritual, or holy objects. Article 259 specifically punishes apostasy. Those who express “words or deeds that are inconsistent with the rules and principles of Islam intentionally or with insistence,” receive three chances to repent. If they fail to, they are subject to the death penalty. 

In addition to the general blasphemy laws of the penal code, the 1990 Press and Publications Law established a wide net of censorship against material causing “dissent,” material critical of the Yemeni revolution, and insults to Islam or Islamic heritage.

Since the Houthi rebellion and takeover of much of the north, including the country's capital, the status of these laws is unclear in much of the country. However, the internationally-recognized government still operates in parts of the country, and civil conflict between the two sides is ongoing.

Cases of Persecution in Yemen
Law student and secularist Amgad Abdulrahman murdered in broad daylight
Member of minority Baha'i religious community Hamed bin Haydara sentenced to death
Yemeni professor Khalid al-Hameidi killed in drive-by shooting
Critic of "Qur'an science" Mohammed Atboush assaulted in attempted murder
Omar Bataweel, 18, abducted and shot in head for apostasy