A former Muslim on trial in Yemen for the capital offense of apostasy failed to appear before Aden's First Court in Tawahi as scheduled Wednesday.Defense lawyers of Mohammed Omer Haji, 27, were told by the presiding judge that the Somali refugee's case in the southern port city of Aden remained "in the hands of the attorney general."Yemeni government sources have reportedly told a U.N. agency in the capital city of Sana'a that a deportation order had been issued against the convert, who was transferred to Aden's Immigration Jail Monday."There was no hearing, absolutely nothing," Haji's court-appointed lawyer, Mohammed Abdulkarim Omarawi, told Compass from Aden. "So the case is going on without any hearing," he said. "I think the chief prosecutor is looking for a compromise."According to Omarawi, an out-of-court settlement of the case would be "better for our country, better for the prosecutor, and me, and better also for the accused."As a refugee registered under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Aden, Haji agreed last week to be represented by a UNHCR lawyer sent from Sana'a to take up his brief in cooperation with Omarawi.Although the UNHCR reported Haji was transferred to the Immigration Jail at Crater from Aden's Central Mansoora Jail on July 17, Omarawi said he had not been able to confirm his client's whereabouts. He said he would visit both prison facilities tomorrow to try to see Haji."But I have hope," Omarawi said. "If they bring him to court, they have to give a judgment. If they don't bring him, and there's no hearing, it means they are ready to send him out."According to Anoushiravan Daneshvar, UNHCR representative in Sana'a, Haji's proposed emergency resettlement file was completed Tuesday by the UNHCR protection officer in Aden and forwarded to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva this morning.Daneshvar said he believed that Yemeni authorities "want to avoid a public hearing" on this case, which has drawn considerable international attention since Haji was given a one-week ultimatum on July 5 to recant his conversion to Christianity, or face execution for leaving Islam. Yemen adheres to strict Islamic law, which requires the death penalty for apostasy.In accordance with the UNHCR Charter, Daneshvar said, his office categorically opposes the deportation of Haji and his family back to their native Somalia, where the United Nations has no existing mission and the convert would be under threat for leaving Islam to become a Christian."We have made a strong case on this with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here," he told Compass from Sana'a. In a formal request issued Wednesday, the UNHCR requested a stay of the deportation order by Yemen authorities, in order to resettle the convert and his family."I believe that resettlement is justified on the merits of this particular case," Daneshvar noted. He stressed, however, that the UNHCR opposed resettlement of the family in a Western country, a precedent which he said could encourage abuse of religious conversion claims in order to gain asylum abroad. "This would open the door to a flood of refugees claiming conversion," he said.Daneshvar said negotiations for a country of resettlement, if agreed to by Yemen authorities, was in the hands of UNHCR headquarters in Geneva. Although he said he expected "rapid" resolution of the case, he could not predict how soon that might take place.Haji, who has gone by the name George since his conversion to Christianity two years ago, is married with a seven-month-old son. He was imprisoned and reportedly beaten and threatened repeatedly by Yemeni security police for two months after his initial arrest this past January. He was re-arrested in May.On July 5, Haji was formally charged under Article 259 of Yemen's criminal law for committing apostasy by converting to Christianity."If released into this society now," an Aden source admitted, "he is still very vulnerable."Earlier this week, the lawyer representing a Yemeni journalist on trial for alleged blasphemy against Islam was attacked by a mob of shouting protestors wielding their traditional "jambia" daggers as he left a Sana'a courtroom. "It was actually an attempt to kill me," lawyer Mohammad al-Mekhelafi told Reuters.
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