European Interreligious Forum For Religious Freedom


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Romanian court completely acquits the 21 people from MISA yoga school accused of human trafficking

After more than 10 years, the Romanian court completely acquitted the 21 people from MISA yoga school, accused of human trafficking.  For ten years, the media has continued a witch hunt on MISA yoga school, who is now fully acquitted of all accusations. The decision found much of the evidence put forth by the prosecution to be unfounded or illegal. Again we face a large scale fake-trial against a spiritual movement, with grave violations of the fundamental rights of thousands of yoga practitioners.

The trial was part of the internationally questioned Romanian campaign against the MISA yoga school. The campaign started in 2004 with the largest police action in post-communist Romanian history. Under the pretext of national security, 300 armed gendarmes raided 16 private houses belonging to yogis. The yoga school was accused of paramilitary activity and the attack was conducted under the code name „Operation Christ”. The raid was filmed and leaked to the media the same day. The images and reports triggered international criticism among European politicians and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and The Romanian Helsinki Commission APADOR-CH. The Danish Member of European Parliament at that time, Mrs Ulla Sandbaek, advised the leader of the yoga school to immediately flee the persecutions and ask for asylum in Sweden. The Swedish Supreme Court found him innocent and gave him asylum, being persecuted due to his religious beliefs.

For a decade the persecutions continued in Romania against Mr Bivolaru and his students, with long trials based on false accusations, media and social stigmatization of tens of thousands of yogis. Finally the accusations have now been dropped and Romania must aim to heal the wounds caused by the on-going marginalization of a major religious minority. 

The political scientist, human rights activist and founder of APADOR-CH Mr Gabriel Andreescu has written two books on the on-going persecution of the Romanian yoga school. He states that there will not be any human rights in Romania until the persecution is stopped, and that the victims must be compensated.

Most of the trials initiated in the persecutions of 2004 have ended in full acquittal. So far no compensation has been discussed. Unfortunately the trial against Mr Bivolaru took a much critiqued turn as he, after being acquitted in first and second instance, was convicted to six years imprisonment in absentia. As Romania is today part of the European Union and Mr Bivolaru received asylum in Sweden because of precisely these persecutions, the conviction followed by a European Arrest Warrant has triggered a unique and highly disturbing situation, where a refugee is both protected and persecuted within for the same accusations within one and the same judicial system. 

It is not unusual for spiritual schools to be falsely accused of human trafficking. At the OSCE HDIM 2014 Soteria International highlighted this problem both in Germany (Deutche Academie fur Traditionelles Yoga) and Italy (Ananda Assisi).  Ananda Assisi is a Yoga organization which over 2002 - 2009 was the subject of such a judicial inquiry, facing accusations of being a sect which “enslaved” people by forcing them to work without being paid, and other accusations including the premise that Ananda was a “pseudo-religion”. People were harassed and came under social pressure, were taken to court and eventually imprisoned. After more years of investigation, the judge dismissed the case. Also here the European Union face a major question mark: why do these false accusations continue to surface regarding minor religious or spiritual movements, such as the Romanian yoga school MISA.

The Acquittal of MISA yoga school in the court trial from Cluj is available on this link:

Here is the English translation:

Rédigé par Soteria International le Friday, February 20th 2015 | Comments (0)

This sign-on letter is being sent to a hundred of French politicians:

Open letter to French politicians
Dear French politicians,
Recently, as we are all aware, France was devastated by two terrorist attacks which led millions to take to the streets to protest against terrorism; express their commitment to respect for human life and their desire to live in a country where disagreements are not resolved with Kalashnikovs; a country where one is not killed just because he is a Jew or because one has offended the religious feelings of others; a country where law is respected and freedom of conscience protected.
The heinous attacks have been rightly condemned with the utmost firmness by the entire French political class, and we support you fully in this process.
Unfortunately, the fact that the attacks were perpetrated by criminals claiming to be following Islam, is not only used to justify the stigmatization of Islam and its followers, but leads to an exacerbation of hostility towards religions and to an escalation of misinterpretations and exaggerations that are no credit to anyone.
As revealed by the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, since these attacks the number of hostile acts against Muslims have more than doubled in the country.
The confusion between what terrorism is, what is claimed in the name of religion, and the practice of religion, even though it may be diligent and ardent, is the breeding ground for a social fracture that will not help anyone and will do nothing to stem the criminal extremism we all want to see removed from society.
When politicians confuse the fact of a child "going to prayer" with "radical extremism", when it is said that because a young woman chooses to "wear the veil" it is "sectarian abuse" which leads to" Islamist radicalisation", we are going through a dangerous political positioning which leads us away, each day a little more, from the core values that led to the birth and development of the French Republic.
When a 9 year old child is taken to the police station and interrogated for "advocating terrorism" because he said "Allah Akbar, long live the Koran," and then the only issue that challenges our journalists is to know whether or not he actually uttered the words without even clarifying that saying “God is great” and praising a sacred book cannot be mistaken or equated with terrorism, then we can actually fear for even worse abuses in the future.
The choice of terms is also important in these periods. It does not follow that a religious practice must be "moderate" or otherwise equated with being extremist or terrorism. Moderation may be seen as a valuable virtue, but the application of this term to a religious practice, as if to practice without moderation was a crime, can only lead to a false vision of what we need to fight.
A "fatwa" is not a "call to murder", but a legal advice given by a specialist of Islamic law on a particular issue. The "Jihad", although the term has been overused by groups claiming to be Islamic is not for all Muslims synonymous with terrorism. It is necessary to clarify the use of these terms in the future in order to properly describe, and not demonise, the beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims. A Muslim who practices the "great jihad", i.e. the fight against his own evil inclinations, cannot identify with a message that encourages him to "stop jihadism," even if he understands that the intention is to stop terrorists.
We all agree on condemning terrorism, whether it is the work of criminals claiming any religion or none. Terrorism is not a religion, it is one of the worst forms of crime that exists, and it is a crime for political purposes.
We all agree that the recent events should lead to a strong and effective response to prevent what is called radicalization and the fight against terrorism.
For this, it is imperative to foster greater understanding of what the religions practiced on French territory are, and to avoid confusion that leads to exclusion, stigmatization and denigration of an important part of the French population.
Beliefs and religious practice are freedoms guaranteed by the French Constitution and law and the great strength of France is its secularism that should actually protect every citizen's freedom of conscience and their right to freely practice the religion of their choice. Misuse of this secularism could be the tomb of our “living together”, the tomb of a public order that would bury together individual freedoms, feelings of belonging to the nation and social peace.
In France there are many interfaith initiatives which show every day that it is possible to live together, to understand each other without having to adopt the religion of others and to live one’s faith by giving the other the right to live theirs fully too. Nothing replaces understanding. It stems among other things from education to principles underlying fundamental freedoms, but also education on what really are different religions.
We encourage you to support these initiatives and to support actions that go in the direction of a greater understanding between the French people, whatever their religious beliefs, or whether they have one or not, and we are at your disposal to participate in this vital effort not only for France, but also for the whole of Europe.
Respectfully yours,
CAPLC (European coordination for freedom of conscience)
Aïcha le Strat
Attorney at law at the Paris Bar
Asif Arif
Attorney at law at the Paris Bar
Lecturer at Paris Dauphine University
Director - Cultures et Croyances
Secretary General EIFRF France
Mariam Barandi
Forum of European Muslim Youth and Students Organizations
Danny Diskin
Interfaith Alliance – UK
Prof. Gwen Griffith-Dickson
Director – The Lokahi Foundation – UK
Catherine Orsborn
Director – Shoulder to Shoulder
Program/Research Associate "Religion and Social Cohesion in Conflict-Affected Societies," at DU's Korbel School of International Studies.
Eric Roux
Chair – EIFRF
Shiromani Akali Dal (France)
French Sikhs Association
Rabinda Singh Sohil
Chair Sikh International Council
Revd Dr Kevin Snyman
Synod Mission Enabler
West Midlands Synod United Reformed Church
Martin Weightman
Director – All Faith Network, UK

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, February 16th 2015 | Comments (0)

EIFRF a écrit et co-signé (15 co-signataires, voir ci-dessous) cette lettre, qui est actuellement envoyée à une centaines de politiciens français :

Lettre ouverte aux politiciens français
Paris, le 16 février 2015
Chers responsables politiques français,
Récemment, nous en sommes tous conscients, la France a été touchée par deux attentats terroristes qui ont amené plusieurs millions de Français à descendre dans la rue pour manifester leur rejet du terrorisme, leur attachement au respect de la vie humaine et leur volonté de vivre dans un pays où les désaccords ne se règlent pas à coups de kalachnikovs, un pays dans lequel on ne se fait pas tuer juste parce qu’on est juif ou parce qu’on a froissé le sentiment religieux de certains, un pays où le droit est respecté et la liberté de conscience protégée.
Ces attentats odieux ont été très justement condamnés avec la plus grande fermeté par l’ensemble de la classe politique française, et nous vous soutenons entièrement dans cette démarche.
Malheureusement, le fait que ces attentats aient été perpétrés par des criminels se réclamant de l’Islam, non seulement sert aujourd’hui à justifier une stigmatisation de la religion musulmane et de ses fidèles, mais mène à une exacerbation des sentiments hostiles à l’égard des religions, dans une surenchère de contresens et d’exagérations qui ne font honneur à personne.
Comme l’a révélé l’Observatoire National Contre l’Islamophobie, depuis ces deux attentats les actes hostiles aux musulmans ont plus que doublé dans le pays.
La confusion entre ce qu’est le terrorisme, fût-il revendiqué au nom d’une religion, et la pratique, même assidue et zélée, d’une religion, est le terreau d’une fracture sociale qui n’aidera personne, et ne fera rien pour endiguer l’extrémisme criminel que nous souhaitons tous voir reculer.
Lorsque des hommes et femmes politiques confondent le fait pour un enfant « d’aller à la prière » et « une dérive radicale », lorsqu’ils affirment que le fait pour une jeune femme de choisir de « porter le voile » constitue une « dérive sectaire » qui mène à la « radicalisation islamiste », nous sommes en train de vivre une dérive politique qui nous éloigne chaque jour un peu plus des valeurs fondamentales qui ont présidé à la naissance et au développement de la République française.
Lorsqu’un enfant de 9 ans est emmené au poste de police et auditionné pour « apologie du terrorisme » parce qu’il aurait dit « Allah Akhbar, vive le Coran », et que la seule question qui interpelle nos journalistes c’est de savoir s’il a réellement prononcé ces mots, sans relever le fait que dire que Dieu est grand et louer un écrit sacré ne peut être assimilé à une apologie du terrorisme, alors, on peut craindre effectivement les pires dérives à venir.
Le choix des termes est aussi important dans ces périodes. Un religieux n’a pas à être « modéré » pour ne pas être un extrémiste, voire un terroriste. Si la modération peut être considérée comme une vertu appréciable, l’application de ce terme à une pratique religieuse, comme si le fait de pratiquer sans modération était un crime, ne peut que mener à une vision fausse de ce que nous devons combattre.
Une « fatwa » n’est pas un « appel au meurtre », mais un avis juridique donné par un spécialiste de la loi islamique sur une question particulière. Le « Djihad », même si le terme a été galvaudé par des groupes se réclamant de l’Islam, n’est pas pour l’ensemble des musulmans synonyme de terrorisme. Il conviendra de se poser la question de l’emploi de ces termes à l’avenir pour décrire une réalité que ne partage pas la grande majorité des musulmans. Un musulman qui pratique le « grand Djihad », c’est-à-dire la lutte contre ses propres penchants mauvais, ne pourra pas se reconnaître dans un message qui encourage à « stopper le djihadisme », même s’il comprend que l’intention est de stopper les terroristes.
Nous sommes tous d’accord pour condamner le terrorisme, celui-ci fut-il l’œuvre de criminels se réclamant d’une religion quelconque ou pas. Le terrorisme n’est pas une religion, c’est l’une des pires formes de criminalité qui existe, et c’est une criminalité à visée politique.
Nous sommes tous d’accord pour dire que les récents évènements doivent mener à une réponse forte et efficace pour empêcher ce qu’on appelle la radicalisation et lutter contre le terrorisme.
Pour cela, il est impératif de favoriser une plus grande compréhension de ce que sont les religions présentes sur le territoire français, et d’éviter les confusions qui mènent à l’exclusion, à la stigmatisation et au dénigrement d’une partie de la population française.
Les croyances et la pratique religieuse sont des libertés garanties par la constitution et la loi française et la grande force de la France, c’est sa laïcité qui protège chaque citoyen dans sa liberté de conscience, dans son droit de pratiquer librement la religion de son choix. Un mauvais usage de cette laïcité pourrait être le tombeau de notre vivre ensemble, le tombeau d’un ordre public dans lequel seraient enterrés pêle-mêle libertés individuelles, sentiments d’appartenance à la Nation et paix sociale.
Il existe en France de nombreuses initiatives inter-religieuses qui chaque jour montrent qu’il est possible de vivre ensemble, de se comprendre sans avoir à épouser la religion de l’autre et de vivre pleinement sa foi en accordant à l’autre le droit de vivre pleinement la sienne. Rien ne remplace la compréhension. Celle-ci naît entre autres de l’éducation aux grands principes qui sous-tendent les libertés fondamentales, mais aussi de l’éducation à ce que sont réellement les religions.
Nous vous encourageons à favoriser ces initiatives et à soutenir les actions qui vont dans la direction d’une plus grande compréhension entre les Français, quelles que soient leurs convictions religieuses, qu’ils en aient ou pas, et nous nous tenons à votre disposition pour participer à cet effort vital, pour la France, mais aussi pour l’Europe tout entière.
Très respectueusement,
CAPLC (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience)
Aïcha le Strat
Avocate au Barreau de Paris
Asif Arif
Avocat au Barreau de Paris
Chargé d’enseignement – Université Paris Dauphine
Directeur- Cultures et Croyances
Secretaire General EIFRF France
Mariam Barandi
Forum Européen des Organisations Musulmanes de Jeunes et d'Etudiants
Danny Diskin
Interfaith Alliance – UK
Prof. Gwen Griffith-Dickson
Directrice – The Lokahi Foundation – UK
Catherine Orsborn
Directrice – Shoulder to Shoulder campaign
Program/Research Associate "Religion and Social Cohesion in Conflict-Affected Societies," at DU's Korbel School of International Studies.
Eric Roux
Président – EIFRF
Président - Shiromani Akali Dal (France)
Association des Sikhs de France
Rabinda Singh Sohil
Président – International Sikh Council
Révérend Dr Kevin Snyman
Synod Mission Enabler
Synode de l’Eglise Unifiée Réformée des West Midlands - UK
Martin Weightman
Directeur – All Faith Network, UK

Rédigé par EIFRF le Monday, February 16th 2015 | Comments (11)

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