European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom
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Register to the Faith and Freedom Summit II
The Faith and Freedom Summit, a campaign for freedom of religion of belief in the EU run by a coalition of NGOs (including EIFRF), will have its second event on April 2, in the European Parliament. 

The announcement includes the following: 
"We strongly believe that EU citizens must enjoy a real freedom of religion or belief, at every level, and that this fundamental right is not given the importance it deserves in the EU institutions, and in the EU instruments to protect the various freedoms of EU citizens. That is what we will discuss on April 2, with you."

If you want to attend (limited seats), you need to register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/faith-and-freedom-summit-ii-registration-58735000969?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

Here you can see the description of the event which will gather some very interesting speakers: https://faithandfreedomsummit.eu/faith-and-freedom-summit-ii

You should be there!

And by the way, think to sign the pledge of the Faith and Freedom Summit if not yet done, with your name and title: https://faithandfreedomsummit.eu/sign-the-pledge
“I pledge that I will uphold and defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out against bigotry, discrimination, harassment and violence; and so build a more equitable society for all.”

Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, March 14th 2019 | Comments (0)

NGOs write to international Govt leaders to alert on 45 reporters of Bitter Winter arrested in China
A group of NGOs, including EIFRF, wrote a joint letter to various international government leaders to alert them on the arrest of 45 reporters working for the online newspaper Bitter Winter, and calling them to action. The letter reads as follows:

To:
Dr Ahmed Shaheed
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
Mrs Federica Mogherini
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Mrs Dunja Mijatović
Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
Mr Stavros Lambrinidis
EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights
Mr Jan Figel
EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief
Mr David Kaye
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Mrs Mairead McGuiness MEP
Vice President of the EU Parliament in charge of Implementation of Article 17 TFEU
Denis De Jong MEP
Co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Peter Van Dalen
Co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief
 
 
Brussels, the 21 January 2019
 
 
Dear Madam, dear Sir,
 
We write as an informal group of organizations and individuals who are scholars, religious leaders, human rights advocates and practitioners to express our deep concern about the fact that since August 2018, at least 45 Bitter Winter (a magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China) contributors in mainland China have been arrested for filming incidents of, or gathering news about, the CCP’s persecution of religious freedom and violation of human rights. Reporters are usually detained and interrogated on the charge of “divulging state secrets” or “involvement in infiltration by foreign forces.” Some reporters have been sent to “legal education centres” to undergo mandatory indoctrination, while others have been tortured and abused.
 
We are a truly multi-faith group, representing a high degree of diversity. While there is very little we agree on theologically, or politically, we all agree on the importance of religious freedom for all faiths and none. It strengthens cultures and provides the foundation for stable democracies and their components, including civil society, economic growth, and social harmony. As such, it is also the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon, pre-emptively undermining religious extremism.
 
There is one enemy totalitarian regimes fear more than any else: a free press. They know they should use all means to prevent their wrongdoings from being exposed internationally by free media.
 
Bitter Winter (https://bitterwinter.org/) is a daily magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, published since May 2018 in eight languages, including Chinese, by the respected Italian academic centre CESNUR (Centre for Studies on New Religions).
 
Since CESNUR is the oldest (it was founded in 1988) and largest international network of scholars of new religions, the magazine covers the persecution of both mainline religion and new religious movements such as The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong in China. The magazine relies on an extensive network of Chinese reporters willing to risk their liberty to send news, photographs, and videos abroad. Bitter Winterachieved international fame when it managed to smuggle out of China several exclusive videos  (1) shot inside the “transformation through education” camps where one million Uyghur and other Muslims are detained.
 
Obviously, Bitter Winter did not go unnoticed to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The magazine itself published two confidential documents (2) where the CCP asks the State Security to crack down on those who send information to Bitter Winter from China.
 
The first Bitter Winterreporters were arrested in July, but many more were arrested in the last month. The magazine reports that 45 of its journalists are in jail, and that it has received credible information that some have been tortured to compel them to disclose the names of other reporters involved in the network. The reporter who shot the videos in the Uyghur camps “disappeared,” and precedents in China induce to fear the worst.
 
We call on democratic governmental authorities, international organizations, and media to ask China to immediately release the arbitrarily detained Bitter Winter reporters, and to comply with the international obligations it has freely subscribed about human rights and freedom of the media.
 
Respectfully,
 
 
Organizations
 
CAP FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE
 
CENTER FOR STUDIES ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION, BELIEF AND CONSCIENCE – LIREC 
 
CITIZEN POWER INITIATIVES FOR CHINA
 
EUROPEAN INTERRELIGIOUS FORUM FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – EIFRF
 
EUROPEAN OFFICE OF THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
 
EUROPEAN MUSLIM INITIATIVE FOR SOCIAL COHESION (EMISCO)
 
GERARD NOODT FOUNDATION
 
HUMAN RIGHTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS INT’L (BRUSSELS) - HRWF
 
INTERNATIONAL OBSERVATORY OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY OF REFUGEES – ORLIR
 
JUBILEE CAMPAIGN

MUSLIMS FOR PROGRESSIVE VALUES (MPV)
 
SOTERIA INTERNATIONAL
 
STEFANUS ALLIANCE INTERNATIONAL
 
WORLD UYGHUR CONGRESS
 
 
Individuals
 
Ivan Arjona
President - European Office of the Church of Scientology for Public Affairs and Human Rights
 
Veysel Filiz
Spokesperson – EMISCO
 
Russel Moore
President – Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
 
Bashy Quraichy
Secretary General- EMISCO
 
Jianli Yang
Founder and President - Citizen Power Initiatives for China

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, January 21st 2019 | Comments (0)

On December 11, 2018 the US State department placed Russia on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom."


US State Dept places Russia on Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced it in a press release that can be found here: https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/12/288006.htm, with these words:
"In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump Administration. In July, I hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which brought together some 85 likeminded governments and more than 400 civil society organizations to harness global attention and motivate forceful action to advance respect for the human right of religious freedom."

Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, during his congressional testimony, explained why Russia was put on the list:
“Russia is trending in the wrong direction a series of things, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment particularly of Jehovah’s Witnesses that were banned, widespread suppression of religious expression and in practice they have a 2016 law criminalizing illegal missionary activities that have included 156 cases reported by NGO’s in 2017 starting with Salvation Army, Pentecostals, Jehovah Witnesses, of course, Baptists, the Administrative Center of the new Apostolic Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Lutheran Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Ukrainian Reform Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, along with a series of Muslim groups and they banned the reading of the Turkish Islamic theologian Said Nursi.  Under a distorted interpretation of its extremists laws they have 145 currently jailed prisoners for religious beliefs, 106 of which are Muslims, they particularly as well go after the Church of Scientology and those are the reasons we’re put them on the special watch list.  Along with other regions as well that we could talk about.”

You can find a video of this testimony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6qc0uwKvRA, and the above excerpt can be listened to at 43:01.

Rédigé par EIFRF le Saturday, December 15th 2018 | Comments (0)

Professor Marco Ventura is the Director of the Centre for Religious Studies at Bruno Kessler Foundation, full professor with tenure at the Department of Law of the University of Siena and member of the experts panel on Freedom of Religion of the OSCE. On October 2, he intervened at the conference "Religious life of Russian regions and prevention of religious extremism", which took place in St Petersburg, Russia. The conference was organized by the Russian Association of Religion Researchers (RARR), the Russian association of religious freedom (St. Petersburg office), the Educational scientific center of studying of religions of the Russian State Humanitarian University (Moscow), the St. Petersburg center of theological researches and the Research center of theological and ethnopolitical researches of the Leningrad State University of A.S. Pushkin. EIFRF participated to the conference. Here is the content of Marco Ventura's speech:


St Petersburg Conference on Religious life of Russian regions and prevention of religious extremism - Speech by Marco Ventura
Freedom of Religion or Belief in the OSCE Region
The Value and Rights of Minority Believers
 
International Scientific and Practical Conference
“Religious life of Russian regions and prevention of religious extremism”
St Petersburg
2 October 2018
 
Introduction
1. European minority believers
2. Their value
3. Their rights
Conclusion
 
Introduction
 
This presentation is concerned with minority believers and their freedom in the OSCE region and more specifically with extremism-based or tradition-based limitations of minorities’ freedom. For the purpose of this presentation Four factors combine in making majorities anxious about religious or belief minority individuals and their communities. First, global cultural exchange and transformation are resented as threatening identities and traditions. Second, global politics challenge national sovereignty in general and the extent and efficiency of domestic rule, thus questioning human rights as universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and hindering the transition to a viable combination of supranational and national/local governance and justice. Third, crisis in the economy and security encourages stigmatisation of minorities as responsible for the crisis and as an obstacle to peace and development. Fourth, innovation in science and technology, most of all in information technology and artificial intelligence, empowers majorities to an unprecedented degree, while increasing their concern that digital communication will make minorities more connected internationally and thus more powerful. The Wall Street Journal has recently denounced the pervasive use by local authorities of technologies of facial recognition and scanning in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, resulting in the worrying oppression of Muslim Uyghurs.
Against this background, I will argue first that religious or belief minorities represent a crucial value for the OSCE region, to be acknowledged, protected and promoted, and second that inherent and instrumental to such value are minority rights, both general and freedom of religion or belief specific. I will then conclude on the interdependence of the value and rights of minorities in Europe.
 
1. Minority believers in Europe.
 
We have celebrated this year the 25th anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights Kokkinakis decision of 1993, the first ever whereby a State signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights has been found in violation of article 9 ECHR. In the decision, judges made the following seminal point applicable to both our national communities and our transnational community: ‘as enshrined in Article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a "democratic society" within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it (ECtHR, Kokkinakis v. Greece, 1993, at para 31). This text, and the related principle, capture the historical and conceptual dimension of freedom of religion or belief for all in Europe. Historically, and descriptively, the very identity of Europe as well as of its national and local components is based on pluralism of religion or belief in a democratic society. Conceptually, and prescriptively, no democratic society can exist, if one of its foundations, freedom of religion or belief, is not granted to all. As a consequence, minority believers are to be understood as an indispensable part of the European equation, historically and conceptually, descriptively and prescriptively.
 
2. Their value.
The value of minorities is not limited to some of them, but extends to all, big and small, more or less widespread, old or new. Orthodox Christians of the various Patriarchates and autocephalous churches, pre-Calcedonian churches, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Jewish of different schools, Sunni and Shia, Ahmadi and Alevi, Buddhists and Hindus of various traditions, Sikh and Baha’is belong to the same European symphony, as do Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Adventists, Scientologists and Pentecostals. All have been recognised by European institutions, and the Court of Strasbourg.
Minority believers and their communities represent a crucial value for Europe as understood in the European Convention of human rights and other international and pan-European instruments, on two accounts. First, they are indispensable to a plural, diverse and dynamic European society. Second, they are necessary to a rich and flourishing religious environment. On both accounts, the value of minorities is not limited to some of them, but extends to all, big and small, more or less widespread, old or new. Orthodox Christians of the various Patriarchates and autocephalous churches, pre-Calcedonian churches, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Jewish of different schools, Sunni and Shia, Ahmadi and Alevi, Buddhists and Hindus of various traditions, Sikh and Baha’is belong to the same European symphony, as do Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and Adventists, Scientologists and Pentecostals. All have been recognised by European institutions, and the Court of Strasbourg. In the European perspective, the value of minorities is inextricably linked to the value of majorities, since all majorities in a given land are minorities elsewhere. From such values follows a process of mutual learning. Minorities invite majorities to recognise and welcome their own internal diversity and the diversity of society. Majorities invite minorities to contribute to the common good and the harmony of society. The ultimate value of minority believers is thus that in multiple ways they are precious, and indispensable actors of renewal, witnessing and contributing to the capacity of the individuals and communities in the OSCE region to perpetuate traditions and identities through a sensible process of cultural and religious change. Such renewal is not only compatible with religious traditions, but is a peculiar contribution of them, based as it is on a careful, gradual, incremental process of change balancing traditions and modernity. In fact, such renewal turns out to be an inspiration for our innovation-driven society, whereas majority and minority believers together have a lot to contribute to how to best draw the line between good and bad change, desirable and undesirable change.
 
3. Their rights.
 
Minority believers do have rights, individual, collective and institutional. Some rights are not specific to religion or belief. Belonging to this category is the right not to be limited in the personal freedom, private life and property without an objective and strict justification according to the terms of international law in general and the European Convention of Human Rights in particular. Defence rights and the right to a fair trial are also crucial rights for minority believers. Some rights are indeed specific to freedom of religion or belief as a multi-faceted human right embracing individual, collective, institutional, educative and communicative dimensions. Such right is expressly recognized in international and regional standards and OSCE commitments. Freedom of religion or belief is a right belonging to all human beings, men and women, whether theistic, non-theistic, atheistic or other believers. It includes the freedom of everyone to manifest their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, in public or in private, through worship, teaching, practice and observance. Under international law, “security” or “national security” is not recognized as a permissible ground for restricting the manifestation of freedom of religion or belief. Under freedom of religion or belief, communities are protected against targeting, discrimination and persecution. In particular religious or belief communities can not be declared criminal organizations and outlawed simply because of the criminal conviction of one or more members; more generally, States should not sanction religious or belief communities for the criminal conduct of individuals or groups, or target individuals or groups because of their religion or belief, but should address the specific unlawful activity of individuals or groups. Also States sanction religious or belief communities by reference to concepts such as “extremism” or “radicalization” which, given their imprecise nature and lack of a commonly accepted definition, render them open to different interpretations and arbitrariness in their application. The legal prohibition and sanctioning of activities carried out by unregistered religious or belief communities is also incompatible with international standards and OSCE commitments.
 
Conclusion
 
The correlation between rights and value is not one of hierarchy, or priority. Minority believers do not possess rights because of and insofar as they have value. Rights are inherent to them. Rather the correlation between value and rights should be seen as one of mutual enrichment and strengthening. This is all the more key, and relevant, for traditional majorities in our respective countries. Whenever and wherever minority believers are denied acknowledgment of their value and protection of their rights, it is the very essence of what means to be European to be at risk, and the very legacy of what Europeans, and European nations and peoples conquered over the centuries.
 

Rédigé par EIFRF le Wednesday, October 3rd 2018 | Comments (0)

The Appel of the Nine NGOs, including EIFRF


Stop the Persecution of Chinese Refugees of The Church of Almighty God in South Korea
Heavily persecuted in China, with many documented cases of torture and extra-judicial killings, hundreds of members of The Church of Almighty God have escaped to South Korea, where they are seeking refugee status. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pursuing them also in Korea. It has coerced or persuaded with threats their relatives to go to Korea and ask that the refugees “return home,” i.e. go back to China where they would not go “home” but to jail, and is staging false “spontaneous demonstrations” with the help of local organizations against the “cults.”

It is a scandal that for the CCP persecuting religious dissidents in China is not enough. They are pursued even in the countries where they have escaped, with the help of misguided “anti-cultists” and pro-Chinese sympathizers.

We ask the Chinese authorities to immediately stop this campaign of hate against harmless refugees, and the Korean authorities to grant asylum to the believers of The Church of Almighty God who, should they return to China, would face arrest, detention, and probable torture.

August 31, 2018

 

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

LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience

ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees

Soteria International

Rédigé par EIFRF le Friday, August 31st 2018 | Comments (0)

The US Board of Immigration Appeals granted on August 13 a stay of removal to the leader of The Church of Almighty God in four Chinese provinces, who was to be deported to China after August 15.


THE MOTION FOR STAY OF REMOVAL TO CHINA OF SISTER ZOU DEMEI HAS BEEN GRANTED

Bitter Winter reported on August 13  that attorney Russell Abrutyn had filed an urgent appeal to the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals to stay deportation to China of Sister Zou Demei , the leader of The Church of Almighty God  in four Chinese provinces, who entered the U.S. with a false passport and should be deported to China after August 15.

We are now pleased to report that the application for stay has been granted.

The Board will now examine the substance of the matter, and the legal battle is far from being over, but the immediate risk of repatriation to China – where Sister Zou would be arrested and may be executed – has been averted.

Mr. Abrutyn commented that “the support from the international human rights community and Ms. Zou’s fellow Church of Almighty God   members made this happen.” This support is now needed for the further legal steps awaiting Ms. Zou.


Rédigé par EIFRF le Thursday, August 16th 2018 | Comments (0)

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)

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