European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom
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An Open Letter to President Trump


Open letter: Like a Lamb to the Slaughter: Will the United States Send This Woman to Her Death?
Dear President Trump,

We are NGOs, some of them with ECOSOC consultative status, active in the defense of human rights and religious liberty, with a special experience and concerns for China, and write to ask for your urgent intervention in a question, literally, of life and death.

It regards an asylum seeker of a Chinese Christian new religious movement, The Church of Almighty God, who is detained in Detroit, Michigan, and threatened with immediate deportation back to China, where she will be arrested and will be at serious risk of being executed.

The Church of Almighty God is a group listed as xie jiao (“heterodox teaching,” often wrongly translated as “evil cult”) and banned in China. Being active in it is a crime under Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code, punished with a jail penalty from three to seven years “or more,” but being a leader of it exposes to much harsher punishment. The Chinese government has spread for several years fake news about The Church of Almighty God, accusing it of crimes it has never committed.

Ms. Demei Zou was born on August 14, 1976. She was the leader of The Church of Almighty God in four provinces of China. Because of the severe persecution, somebody in the position of Ms. Zou normally destroys all identification documents and operates under aliases. Her role, however, became known to the police. Illegally, her Church obtained a copy of her “Registration as Fugitive,” a document that reputable scholars believe to be genuine. It accuses Ms. Zou to be indeed the leader of The Church of Almighty God in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Sichuan. It also accuses Ms. Zou of being involved in “stealing and transporting Chinese military secrets abroad,” an absurd accusation for those who know her Church, but one involving the death penalty.

Ms. Zou fled from China to South Korea by using the passport of another person with her photograph pasted on it. From South Korea, she moved to America and arrived at Detroit, Michigan on January 24, 2017. There, her passport was identified as false, and she was arrested. She had her initial master calendar hearing on April 11, 2017, and another one on April 24, 2017. The Court heard testimonies from Ms. Zou and three additional witnesses – two are members of the Church who have been granted asylum in the US on the grounds of religious persecution – at her individual merits hearings on June 13, July 18, and August 29, 2017. She received her notice of losing the case in December of 2017. She took her case to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), but again, BIA upheld the Immigration Judge’s adverse decision. She appealed on June 15, 2018. But, according to the account she provided to her co-religionists, immigration officers advised her that she would be deported to China and in fact made attempts to put her on a plane to Beijing last week, attempts she physically resisted.

Ms. Zou does not speak English. Although the Immigration Court in Detroit also cited the fake news about The Church of Almighty God it found on the Internet (although they have disappeared even from Wikipedia, and foreign decisions in parallel refugee cases expose them as mere Chinese propaganda), the main problems were Ms. Zou’s difficulties in proving her identity, her identity documents having been destroyed, and in telling their story in a way understandable to the authorities, although her co-religionists testified of knowing her and about her role in the Church. We understand that American courts claim they cannot be sure the woman in jail in Detroit is really Ms. Zou, since she has no identity documents. But several co-religionists who escaped to the United States are prepared to swear that she is indeed Ms. Zou.

We trust that the appeal will clarify the misunderstandings, vast documentation about The Church of Almighty God and its persecution based on serious scholarly studies will be introduced, and well-known scholars familiar with the issue will be allowed to testify. In the meantime, deportation of Ms. Zou to China should be stopped. There are documented cases of members of The Church of Almighty God who returned to China from foreign countries and were arrested and even tortured, or “disappeared” there. For Ms. Zou, who has already been accused of involvement in espionage and identified as a key leader of the Church, the risk of the death penalty is very high.

It is inconceivable that the United States, a country whose commitment to human rights and religious liberty is well-known and has been solemnly reiterated under your Presidency, would render Ms. Zou to the persecutors of her Church and to the executioner, and immediate action is needed to prevent such a tragic occurrence.

July 4, 2018

Yours faithfully,

CAP-LC Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience
CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom
FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice
LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience
ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Freedom of Refugees

Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, July 5th 2018 | Comments (0)

The Faith and Freedom Summit: Practicing what we Preach in Europe is a non-partisan summit, which brings together leaders from the various fields of politics, government, academia, activism and the non-for-profit sector from across Europe and beyond, in order to propose and develop initiatives that will put Freedom of Religion or Belief in Europe back in the spotlights.


Register to the Faith and Freedom Summit
Top international speakers at the event include:

Jan Figel
EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union

Salvatore Martinez
Rep of the Italian presidency at OSCE

Dr. Eli Nacht
Official Representative of International Committee of Human Rights in Israel

Marco Ventura
PROFESSOR OF LAW & RELIGION at University of Siena

Vincent Berger
Former Jurisconsult of European Court of Human Rights

Kristina Arriaga
USCIRF Commissionner and Vice-Chairwoman of the Commission

Ahmed Shaheed
Special Rapporteur on human rights to UN Human Rights Council

Sam Brownback
U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom

Thomas Schirrmacher
President of the International Society for Human Rights

And many others that you can find on the website of the Summit: 
http://faithandfreedomsummit.eu 

You'll find also on it the address, the agenda, and everything to register to this historic event.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, June 18th 2018 | Comments (0)

EIFRF will participate to this event that will take place on June 27 in the EU Parliament, organized by Human Rights Without Frontiers International


CAG Poster
 
 
 
 
If you need access to the European Parliament, please be sure to complete your registration by 20 June, 2018.
 
Questions? Email: events@hrwf.org
 
 
 

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, June 18th 2018 | Comments (0)

Bitter Winter: Daily News Online of Religion in China
On May 14, 2018, a new online news magazine has been launched at the International Book Fair of Torino, in Italy, Bitter Winter. The name refers both to the difficult situation of religious liberty in China and to a theme in classical Chinese painting.

The launch of Bitter Winter came at the end of FIRMA-Faiths in Tune, a five-day festival of religions and music that ran parallel with the Book Fair. At the Book Fair, two FIRMA awards were presented by an international jury, one to President Daisaku Ikeda of Soka Gakkai for his lifelong commitment to religious dialogue, and one to The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese new religious movement, for its resistance to religious persecution in China. Authorities, journalists, and a significant public attended both the festival, where The Church of Almighty God’s performers were among the most admired groups, and the award ceremony.

“This has a lot to do, commented Bitter Winter’s editor-in-chief, Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne, with our new magazine. I am a scholar of new religious movements. They are often the most persecuted groups in China and The Church of Almighty God is now the most persecuted of them all, replacing Falun Gong as the religious minority most severely targeted by the regime. While other worthy publications on China ignore the new religious movements, we will cover them together with mainline religions.”

Bitter Winter is in English, but Chinese and Korean editions will be online soon. Assistant editors of Bitter Winter are Willy Fautré, the veteran and highly respected Belgian human rights and religious liberty activist who leads Human Rights Without Frontiers in Brussels, and Rosita Šorytė, president of the International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees and former chairperson of the European Union Working Group on Humanitarian Aid. Italian journalist Marco Respinti serves as technical editor.

“What is also new in Bitter Winter, added Introvigne, is that we were able to establish a network sending news and pictures directly from China. To these unpublished news, we add a digest taken from international and Chinese media.”

Bitter Winter also publishes articles and interviews. In the first issue, the magazine publishes an interview with Father Bernardo Cervellera, the leading Catholic expert of China. He explains that the agreement between Holy See and China, much rumored about in the last months, is not being signed due by resistances within the Chinese regime. He also believes that claims that the agreement would be signed soon were spread by factions within both the Vatican and the Chinese Communist establishment favorable to it, while other factions are hostile.

Home: https://bitterwinter.org/
 

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, May 14th 2018 | Comments (0)

Conference - Religions, Scriptures and Interreligious Dialogue
Religions, Scriptures and Interreligious Dialogue
Is interreligious dialogue part of your religious duties, and what can it do for peace?

Organized by

The European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF)

The conference will be translated in English and French 

Father Ignace Berten
Theologian - Dominican Order

Father Stan Ebere Nwigwe
Catholic Priest

Karim Geirnaert
In charge of the conversions to Islam in Belgium
In charge of the Muslim Scouts and Guides of Belgium
President EuroHalal


Rev. Hierodeacon Petar Gramatikov
Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Doctor of Theology

Manik Paul
Hindu community of Belgium

Rev. Eric Roux
Vice President - European Office of the Church of Scientology 
For Public Affairs and Human Rights



Saturday May 5, 2018 from 14h30 to 17h30
Churches of Scientology for Europe - Boulevard Waterloo 103 - Brussels 1000

RSVP at ericroux@europeanaffairs.eu 
Refreshments and hot drinks will be served

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, April 16th 2018 | Comments (0)

Speech of the Chairman of EIFRF at Side Event at the United Nations, Geneva, March 1, 2018 – Religious Freedom and Anti-Cult Persecution in China: The Case of The Church of Almighty God.


EIFRF Chairman at UN on the Persecution of the Church of Almighty God

The Case of the Refugees of The Church of Almighty God in France

The difficulties that the members of The Church of Almighty God face with respect to their asylum requests in France are not very different from those they encounter in other European countries. Nevertheless, I am going to list the main, and in my opinion wrong, reasons for which an overwhelming percentage of requests have been denied in France. I will explain briefly why, and how France could improve its vision of the members of The Church of Almighty God as well as its knowledge of this Church, review its decisions, and grant asylum to the genuine refugees.

Several cases show a confusion between the movements called House Churches and the ones which are included in China in the official list of “Xie Jiao” (“evil cults”, or more exactly “unorthodox teachings.”) While the former ones are not systematically persecuted, the latter are without doubt a constant target of persecution by the Chinese authorities, and this is inscribed in the very provisions of the Chinese Criminal Code. Because of this confusion, French courts have argued several times that there is no “systematic persecution”, based on the incorrect presupposition that The Church of Almighty God is one of the House Churches, and ignoring its presence on the list of “Xie Jiao.” However, a few recent decisions in France have finally recognized that a systematic persecution exists in China against The Church of Almighty God.

Most of the conclusions of French Courts are based on a document published by the DIDR (Division of Information, Documentation, and Research), the division of the OFPRA (French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless) that is in charge of gathering information to support OPFRA agents in their decision-making process. This document has been compiled on the basis of sources available on the Internet until a few years ago, and these were mostly documents emanating from, or influenced by, the propaganda of Chinese anti-cultists. It contains numerous errors that give a wrong picture of the Church, its doctrine, its social positions, etc. Recently, four well-known religious scholars have written to the DIDR, in order to offer correct data on the movement, and tackling one by one the errors contained in the DIDR document. The DIDR has not answered yet, but it is clear that this independent expert opinion should completely change the way French authorities take their decisions concerning the asylum seekers from The Church of Almighty God.

The same happens with three documents on The Church of Almighty God published by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in 2013 and 2014, on the basis of the information available in these years, i.e. before serious scholarly studies of the Church started being published. These documents are regarded as authoritative in France. Again, recently, the same four religious scholars have written an expert opinion that has been sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, giving updated and more accurate data on the Church and asking that the old documents be corrected. Paradoxically, while often quoted in France, the Canadian documents are almost never quoted in decisions rendered in Canada about the asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God, whose applications have been accepted in a large majority of cases.

Based on these different documents, several French negative decisions concluded incorrectly that some asylum seekers were not really members of The Church of Almighty God, because their answers about the Church during the interviews did not fit exactly with the content of the DIDR and Canadian documents. Having reviewed the answers that led to these wrong conclusions, it appears to me, as it appears to the experts who have studied in depth the doctrine of the Church, that the asylum seekers presented their Church correctly, while the French authorities’ information was wrong. To give you an example, one Court considered that the fact that a member “didn’t know anything about the apocalyptic prediction of the 21 December 2012” was astonishing (and proved that the pretended member of the Church was not a genuine one), whilst in fact, The Church of Almighty God as such never promoted such a prediction and never considered it a part of its doctrine. Even scholars who have no sympathy for The Church of Almighty God recognize this fact, and mention that those members of the Church of Almighty God that shared the enthusiasm prevailing in China for the so called maya prophecies about the end of the world in 2012 were disciplined by their leaders, and some were expelled.

French authorities considered in several decisions that the fact that the members were able to escape from China, sometimes with the help of officers who granted them valid passports, was a proof that there was no persecution. This stems from a real lack of knowledge of the Chinese society. A recent expert opinion by an Italian Professor of Sociology, PierLuigi Zoccatelli, who has studied both Chinese religious movements and Chinese immigration into Europe, explains very well how Chinese emigrants can easily take advantage of the flaws of the Chinese system, and sometimes of the corruption prevailing in China, to get proper passports, even when theoretically they should not be able to get them.

Some decisions, while recognizing the existing persecution targeting The Church of Almighty God in China, considered that the individual asylum seeker could not prove that she or he was a prominent member with a “specific position inside the Church,” and as a consequence was not at risk to be persecuted if sent back to China. Of course, this argument is narrow-minded. The Chinese Criminal Code, as commonly interpreted by courts in China, is quite clear that the mere fact of being “active” in a Xie Jiao group is a crime punished with a jail penalty, without distinguishing whether the member occupies a “specific position” or is just a common devotee. So, the risk of persecution, as well as the fear of being persecuted, as requested by UN standards to obtain the status of refugee, exist even for members who do not occupy a “specific position” in the Church.

As mentioned earlier, a few decisions from the French National Court of Asylum Seekers (CNDA) have recognized the systematic persecution of the members of The Church of Almighty God. This is a good evolution that, if confirmed by subsequent case-law, will open the door to many more fair decisions regarding the asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God. In the last year, the production of academic literature on The Church of Almighty God has considerably increased. Many reliable documents have been produced, and for the first time ever it is possible to really understand the doctrine of this peculiar Christian Church, as well as the challenges it faces regarding its persecution in China. It is therefore of utmost importance that the French authorities dealing with asylum seekers become acquainted with this academic literature, in order to correct the data they were relying upon due to the lack of reliable sources.

There is today no doubt that The Church of Almighty God is suffering persecution in China. There is no doubt that its members face a real and immediate risk of being sent to jail based on their religious affiliation if sent back to China where thousands of them have been tortured and at least 30 members lost their life in jail. Whilst it is very understandable that the French authorities want to ensure that asylum seekers are genuine refugees, rather than economic immigrants simply pretending to be persecuted, the decisions regarding those who claim to be members of The Church of Almighty God should be taken with a real knowledge of this Church based on in-depth studies, not on Chinese anti-cult propaganda or journalists who merely repeat it.

What is at stake is not a minor issue. What is at stake is the safety of persecuted human beings, and for the members of the Church, it is a matter of life or death. Sending back to China members of The Church of Almighty God is tantamount to being accomplice of the persecution they will have to suffer. While it is understandable that errors occur when there is a lack of data available to take proper decisions, this excuse does not exist anymore today. Reliable data exist, they are available, and they must be studied carefully and taken into account by the French Authorities.


Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, March 8th 2018 | Comments (0)

EIFRF co-organized this international Convention with the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (EIFRF is a member of it). EIFRF President Eric Roux has been also invited to speak at this convention, about the effectiveness of the fight for religious freedom, when it is done by everyone for the freedom of everyone. He advocated for alliances in order to achieve results in that field, not for vested or one's faith interest, but for the greatest good for all.


Law and Freedom of Belief in Europe, a difficult journey
Here is the summary of the Convention: 

In the prestigious setting of Sant'Apollonia Auditorium at the homonymous XIV century convent complex located in Via San Gallo, in the historic center of Florence, the international convention of the European Federation for the Freedom of the Belief (FOB) took place on 18th and 19th January, under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (Dr. Thorbjørn Jagland), of the patronage of the Tuscany Regional Council, of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and of the University of Florence. The Medal of the President of the Italian Republic was conferred to the convention. Prof. Silvio Calzolari (Secretary of FOB), presenting it together with attorney Alessandro Amicarelli (President of FOB), publicly thanked the President of the Republic “for having expressed his appreciation for FOB’s initiative, as an event of particular cultural and social value, through the attribution of a representation prize, a medal, which honors us".

 

Rédigé par EIFRF le Sunday, February 4th 2018 | Comments (0)

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