EGYPT: Christians Jailed for Worshipping in Unlicensed House

Muslim mobs give police ‘security’ pretext for closing church.

Morning Star News (06.09.2018) – – Authorities yesterday ordered 15 more days of jail for Christians arrested on Aug. 22 in Egypt for worshipping in a house without a permit, rights activists said.


After Muslim mobs demonstrated against the Virgin Mary and St. Mahrael church in Luxor Governorate, 435 miles south of Cairo, police accused five Coptic Catholics of worshipping without a permit, according to Coptic rights activist Safwat Samaan.


Police closed the church in Al-Zeneeqa village, in Esna, which has been holding worship services at the site for 18 years, according to Samaan. Five Muslims were also arrested, with another 10 arrested on Aug. 24 as they prepared another demonstration against the church, according to U.S.-based Catholic publications The Tablet.


The Copts were arrested even though they did not take any action against the demonstrators, the Catholic outlet reported. Besides charging the Christians with worshipping in an unlicensed venue, they charged them and the Muslims with illegal gathering, disrupting public peace and inciting sectarian strife, according to local media.


The church was the third one in Luxor closed in four months after Muslim extremists protested their existence, giving police the pretext of “security” threats for shuttering them. Hundreds of churches have submitted applications for legalization under a law passed on Sept. 28, 2016 regulating church construction, with little hope of obtaining licenses soon.


In the past 11 months, authorities approved only 220 of the 3,730 church and other ministry buildings that have applied, Watani newspaper reported on Aug. 26. Many churches have already waited 15 years for decisions on their applications for permits, and at the current rate, it will take 17 years to obtain decisions on applications from “unofficial” churches, according to Watani.


Human Rights Watch has described the 2016 law’s restrictions over construction and renovation of church buildings discriminating against Christians.


“The new law empowers provincial governors to approve church building and renovation permits, previously the domain of security services,” The Tablet reported. “However, it grants a governor the right to deny a building or renovation permit on security and public safety grounds, which allows mob violence to dictate the matter. Usually, such mob attacks serve as a pretext for closing the church, especially in upper Egypt where perpetrators act with impunity.”


In Beni Suef Governorate, a member of the security forces responsible for protecting St. George Church in Zaytoun village, some 75 miles south of Cairo, on Aug.  25 charged into their building and shouted, “You are infidels …All of you are infidels,” the Catholic outlet reported.


Muslim mobs that week reportedly demonstrated against a church in Sultan Basha, in Minya Governorate, keeping Copts from worshipping.


Egypt was ranked 17th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.



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YEMEN: Houthis intensify suppression of Bahá´í Community through court in Sana´a

Baha’i International Community (18.09.2018) – – NEW YORK:  On 15 September more than 20 members of the Baha’i community in Yemen, including all of its national-level leaders, were indicted at a court hearing in Houthi-controlled Sana’a. They have been falsely accused of espionage and apostasy under various absurd pretexts.


The religiously motivated accusations levelled by the de-facto authorities in Sana’a at the hearing follow recent hate speech promoted by the leader of the Houthis. There has been an escalating pattern of activity to oppress Yemeni Baha’is including a death sentence in January, and mass arrests in recent years.


The hearing began with only the judge, the prosecutor, and other court officials present; neither the Baha’s being charged nor their lawyers were informed of the court session. The next hearing is scheduled for 29 September in Sana’a, to which the judge has summoned those absent from the first court session, among them women and a teenage girl.


“The charges are extremely alarming and mark a severe intensification of pressure at a time when the community is already being threatened and the general humanitarian crisis in the country requires urgent attention,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.


“We have every reason to be concerned about the safety of the Baha’i community in Yemen. We urge the international community to call upon the authorities in Sana’a to immediately drop these absurd, false and baseless accusations against these innocent individuals who have been maliciously charged simply because they have been practicing their Faith.”


“The manner in which the Houthis are targeting the Baha’i community in Yemen is eerily reminiscent of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran in the 1980s during which leaders of the Baha’i community were rounded up and killed.” Ms. Dugal added.


In a televised speech earlier this year, the leader of the Houthis vilified and denounced the Baha’i Faith, further intensifying ongoing persecutions against the Baha’i community in Yemen. Abdel-Malek al-Houthi denounced the Baha’i Faith as “satanic”, stated that it was “waging a war of doctrine” against Islam, and urged Yemenis to defend their country from the Baha’is and members of other religious minorities under the pretext that, “those who destroy the faith in people are no less evil and dangerous than those who kill people with their bombs.”


In 2016, over 60 women, men and children participating in an educational gathering organized by Baha’is were arrested as part of a mass crackdown on the religious community.


Hamed bin Haydara, a member of the Yemeni Baha’i Community detained since 2013, was sentenced to public execution for his faith earlier this year and now is one of six Baha’is imprisoned in the country for practicing their faith. Following a protracted court case and a cruel four year imprisonment, a final court hearing was held while the defendant was prevented from attending and was handed the death sentence.


It is understood that Abdu Ismail Hassan Rajeh, the same judge who presided over Mr Haydara’s farcical case, is overseeing the current case.


Despite mounting pressure by the international community, six Baha’is remain in prison. Reports indicate that the Houthis are monitoring and seeking to identify the Baha’is, throughout the areas under their control.



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LEBANON: Life at thirteen years old – a future stolen

SB OverSeas pic for Life at Thirteen

Painting by an SB OverSeas beneficiary in Lebanon


SB OverSeas (19.09.2018) – Amara was the girl in the front row of every class, hand always raised begging to answer the teacher’s question. She had little inside jokes with her teachers in both English and in Arabic. The head of the organization saw in her a chance to show to the world how hard they had been working to make a difference. Amara was the ‘difference’ – the change SB OverSeas sought to make in the community. At 13 years old, she was intelligent, respectful, and gaining the skills she needed to be independent. Then she stopped coming to school.


There was no warning, no explanation, no compromise. She had always been in class, and if not in class, just outside the entrance playing games and running free. She adored the school and the staff admired her; it was unfathomable to think that she would just not show up, but everyone falls ill now and then. Or maybe she had to take care of her younger sister. Or maybe her mother was ill. Or maybe she went to join a relative in Germany. Or was it England? Any one of the rumors that started to float around during the early days of her absence would’ve been easier to swallow then the truth: Amara was getting married.

Marriage in the shelter is always a party. It’s pure happiness, dancing, the best food. It’s the beautiful outfit, the laughter, feeling gorgeous. It’s a slight glimmer of pre-war normalcy, a return to a time many of the children will never know, a time the adults will never forget. Growing up in the shelter, Amara dreamed of her day, her moment, dancing and crying tears of joy at the sight of her Prince Charming. She wanted to be “like a princess from the movies”, but whenever someone asked which one, she’d shrug and say, “all of them!” She dreamed of her “pretty pink dress with all the sparkles” and her makeup rivaling that of a celebrity. On her wedding day she got everything she wanted. She was Jasmine, she was Cinderella, she was stuck.

Amara soon moved into her husband Ali’s family home kilometers away from the shelter she’d come to love. Ali was 6 years older than her and possessed no real education. With a full-time job in Saida, he lived with his parents and was more than ready to consummate the marriage. Within days, her 13 year old innocence was invaded and conquered and replaced by new life. In a community where the thought of contraception and family planning are more foreign than a foreign language, her first painful night with him led to pregnancy. Her mother never wanted her to get married. She saw such beauty in Amara’s mind that to her Amara was the future of Syria. Her father saw her marriage as a way out of a situation he still couldn’t wrap his head around. He saw it as one less child to provide for, one less mouth to feed, and maybe even a better future than what he could provide her on his meager wage.


Amara’s perception of the marriage at 13 didn’t extend much farther beyond the wedding day itself. She didn’t understand that she’d now be responsible for cooking and cleaning not only for her husband, but for both of his parents. She didn’t understand that she’d rarely get to see the people that made her laugh and smile, that she’d never get to make silly faces at her favorite teacher again. She didn’t understand that her immature body couldn’t physically handle the pregnancy.


As her stomach grew each day, she grew weaker. She wasn’t allowed out of the house much and was still expected to cook and clean like a maid. Her mother had never really taught her how to cook, or how to clean, and she had much difficulty figuring it out on her own. That’s where the beatings from her husband started, not gradually, but suddenly, receiving blows from the fists of a now 20 year old man at the slightest mishap in her spousal duties. His parents didn’t care. They never intervened, they encouraged and enabled. To them she deserved it. The girl that every volunteer used to see a light in, had that light extinguished by black and blue bruises and busted lips.


Less than a year before this, Amara used to sit outside with the girls playing with baby dolls, sometimes swinging them at the boys that would bother them, if necessary. She used to squeeze them and hug them close to her chest, wondering what it would be like to have one of her own. She wasn’t a stranger to babies at the shelter. When her younger sister was still a baby Amara would often carry her outside to meet her friends. She played with the babies in the school and knew every trick to make them stop crying. Now she was crying in the hospital after receiving the news that she wouldn’t be having a baby after all. Six months into her pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage; a miscarriage at 14 years old.

This worried Ali’s family even more, as to them and to many in the community, a miscarriage meant something was wrong with her and that she’d never be able to bear children for them. She became ill afterwards and spent even more time in the house isolated. She stayed in bed for entire days, sick and barely able to stand on her own. The moment she gained some of her strength back, she was pregnant once more. During this pregnancy Ali decided that she wouldn’t be allowed out of the house at all, and she obeyed him. Her parents were allowed over sometimes, which gave her a few hours of happiness a few times a week. The months passed and she was back in the hospital. This time, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with light brown eyes – Amina.


Now that she’d have the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of Amina, Ali made the decision to have her spend more time at home learning how to be a housewife from her mother. Walking back into the shelter was hard for her. She felt alien in a place that was once her home. People stared, the new volunteers didn’t even look twice at her as they never got the chance to know what an amazing girl she was. She was happy to be home though. She was delighted to hear how well her little sister was doing in school, and enjoyed being able to confide in her sister how much she regretted her marriage, but she always had to go home to Ali.


Her father was proud, and her mother wasn’t as angry about it as she used to be. Amara herself was starting to get used to it, but she still wasn’t happy with him. The time she got to spend at her family home became the world to her once more. She sat in the kitchen eating fruits, learning her mother’s recipes, and even listening to the songs she liked to dance to but soon enough, her parents started to argue often. Although the arguing seemed to appear out of nowhere, it didn’t take long for her to overhear: her father was making plans for her little sister to get married.


SB OverSeas is working to end child marriage. Read more about our advocacy here. The artwork used for this post are created in our centres as part of our empowerment programs.


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INDIA: UN report says infant mortality rates lowest in five years, four-fold decline in gender gap in girl child survival

Opindia (18.09.2018) – –  The number of infant deaths reported in India for the year 2017 is the lowest in five years. According to reports, the United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UNIGME)has stated in its report that 8,02,000 infants died in India in the year 2017, the lowest in five years.


The UNIGME report states that in 2016, 8,60,000 infants had died in India. Yasmeen Ali Haque, the UNICEF representative in India has stated, ” India continues to show an impressive decline in child mortality deaths, with its share of global under-five deaths for the first time equalling its share of childbirths.”


Yasmeen Ali Haque also reportedly stated that the efforts for improving institutional delivery along with a countrywide scale-up of newborn care units joined with robust immunisation drives have been instrumental in achieving the feat. According to reports, India’s infant mortality rate was 44 per 1000 live childbirths. In 2017, the gender-specific mortality rate has come down to 39 per 1000 live male childbirths and 40 per 1000 live female childbirths. Haque added that the four-fold decline in the gender gap in the survival of girl children is even more heartening.


In 2012, a UN report had stated that the gender gap in child mortality in India is far worse than the global average in developing countries and as girls have biological advantages over boys for better adaptability and resistance to diseases, the child mortality rate of 56 boys for every 100 girls dying suggests a disturbing socio-cultural trend of neglect and lack of care for the girl child.


The recent UNIGME report states that globally a total of 6.3 million children had died in 2017, 1 in every 5 seconds. Most of these deaths were due to preventable causes. A majority of these deaths, 5.4 million is among children below 5-years of age. Laurence Chandy, the director of data, research and policy in UNICEF has stated that simple measures like access to clean water, sanitation, electricity and vaccines can drastically reduce the numbers. Chandy added that over half of the 5.4 deaths among children below five had occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and a further 30% In South Asia.


The UNIGME report states that most children under 5 die due to preventable causes like complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhoea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. The report also stated that for children everywhere, the riskiest period is the first month after birth. 2.5 million of the 5.4 million deaths under were of infants in their first month. Even within countries, rural areas show a 50% higher rate in neonatal deaths than urban areas.


In India, the recent increase in awareness over sanitation and the government’s drive to ensure toilets in every household is widely considered a strong factor in bringing down death rates among the population. A recent WHO report had stated that over 3 lakh deaths due to sanitation-related diseases were prevented in India due to the government’s push for Swachh Bharat Mission. In Uttar Pradesh, an aggressive immunisation and awareness programme called Dasatk has been able to significantly bring down deaths due to Japanese Encephalitis. UNICEF India had praised UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s government recently for successfully immunising every child in the state against Japanese Encephalitis.


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TUNISIA: Historic leap: Women make up 47 per cent of local government

UN Women (27.08.2018) – – Seven years after the 2011 Revolution and four years after the adoption of the Constitution, women now make up 47 per cent of the local council positions in Tunisia following the May 2018 elections. The dramatic increase in women members is the result of a 2016 electoral law that includes the principles of parity and alternation between men and women on candidate lists for all elections.


In May, Ichrak Rhouma was elected to the Sidi Hassine Council in Tunis, the capital city. Prior to being elected, Rhouma participated in the Women’s Political Academy, a joint project by UN Women and the Tunisian women’s rights organization, Aswat Nissa (Women’s Voices). The Academy trained women candidates on local governance, missions and roles of municipal councils, as well as media relations. Rhouma says that the Women’s Political Academy “allowed us to deepen our knowledge on women’s rights in general, but also to learn new concepts such as gender-sensitive budgeting.”


In addition to the Academy, the project has conducted research on women’s expectations of municipal council’s activities in five regions across the country. The study’s results informed candidates’ electoral campaigns and shaped regional development planning.


Prior to the 2018 elections in Tunisia, UN Women and its civil society partners conducted capacity building sessions and supported the updating of the gender-sensitive election observation manual. UN Women also provided capacity building to 75 election observers who were trained on the importance of women’s participation in elections and how to observe gender-related issues during the voting stages.


UN Women also supported the Tunisian League of Women Voters (LET) to run awareness-raising campaigns to increase voter participation, especially in the regions of Sousse, Bizerte and Nabeul, which had registered the lowest rates in 2012 elections.


“The objective was to invigorate a participatory democracy and political culture within women and youth. Our awareness campaigns trained and engaged young men and women who went door to door explaining the importance of women’s participation in the political scene,” explains Nejma Ben Kheher, Project Officer at LET.


Khedher added, “Now that we have this high number of elected women in local and regional councils, we hope to continue supporting them with targeted training, such as access to information or gender-responsive budgeting to help them succeed in their mission.”


“The increased women’s representation in the municipal councils offers an opportunity to impact territorial policies in Tunisia,” said Leila Rhiwi, UN Women Representative in Maghreb. “UN Women will continue supporting the councils to integrate gender concerns into their communal development plans that foster good governance and women’s leadership.”


Tunisia is one of the few countries in the world to establish the principle and practice of equal representation of men and women across candidate lists (horizontal parity – where women should head 50 per cent of candidate lists), as well as down the candidate lists (vertical parity – alternating men and women through the list), in its electoral law. While gender parity has been achieved regarding the municipal lists, according to the High Authority for Independent Elections, more work is needed to support horizontal parity, since women only made up 29.6 per cent of positions at the head of party lists.


Tunisia will hold its parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019.


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EUROPEAN COURT/RUSSIA: Ibragim Ibragimov and Others v. Russia: Application of the law on extremism to peaceful religious groups invalidated

By Patricia Duval, Human Rights Attorney, Paris


Freedom of Conscience (13.09.2018) – – In a landmark decision, Ibragim Ibragimov and others v. Russia (28 August 2018),[1] the European Court of Human Rights has invalidated the Russian Extremism Law as far as the Law’s definition of extremism allows the ban of religious publications even in the absence of any violence or hate speech.


The decision is extremely significant as the Human Rights Court found that any application of the Extremism Law must be based on actual incitement to hatred or violence in order to justify any restriction of freedom of expression of religious beliefs.


It is also significant that the Human Rights Court rejected the national courts’ reliance and wholesale adoption of the findings of one-sided experts’ reports to rule religious publications extremist, without any meaningful and independent analysis by the courts of materials characterized as extremist by experts retained by the government. The Human Rights Court also emphasized that the civil or criminal parties must be given an opportunity to adduce counter-evidence to counter extremist charges. The total process relied on by the courts in Russia in extremist cases has constituted a breach of the equality of arms principle, a practice of Russian courts which has become systematic in the recent years.


The case was referred to the Court by three applicants, a Russian national, a publisher and a religious association, who complained that the Russian courts had ruled in 2007 and 2010 that books by Said Nursi, a well-known Turkish Muslim theologian and commentator of the Qur’an, were extremist and banned their publication and distribution.


The applicants relied both on Article 9 (freedom of religion or belief) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Convention. As the case concerned a ban on the distribution of books, and the books at issue were a commentary on the Qur’an, the Court deemed that it had to be examined under Article 10, interpreted in the light of Article 9.


The Court found that the ban, which amounted to an interference by the Russian State with the right to freedom of expression of Nursi’s followers’ religious convictions, had not been justified by the Russian courts and was not necessary in a democratic society.


In doing so, the Court detailed its principles and case law on “hate speech” which must be characterized to allow restrictions of freedom of speech.[2]

1. Hate Speech


The Court noted that, under paragraph 2 of Article 10,  the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it duties and responsibilities, and in particular, in the context of religious beliefs, the general requirement to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of the rights guaranteed under Article 9 to the holders of such beliefs, including a duty to “avoid as far as possible expressions that are gratuitously offensive to others and thus an infringement of their rights, and which therefore do not contribute to any form of public debate capable of furthering progress in human affairs”.


On the other hand, the Court has also emphasised that those who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion, irrespective of whether they do so as members of a religious majority or a minority, cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism. They must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith.


This reasoning has been developed in its jurisprudence on so-called “blasphemy laws”. In this line, the Court issued a decision on 18 July 2018 in the so-called “Pussy Riot” case[3] where it defined clearly what can be considered “hate speech”. In this case, the Court referred to the General Policy Recommendation no. 15 on Combating Hate Speech adopted by ECRI[4] on 8 December 2015 which defined “hate speech” as follows:

“Considering that hate speech is to be understood for the purpose of the present General Policy Recommendation as the advocacy, promotion or incitement, in any form, of the denigration, hatred or vilification of a person or group of persons, as well as any harassment, insult, negative stereotyping, stigmatization or threat in respect of such a person or group of persons and the justification of all the preceding types of expression, on the ground of “race”, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, language, religion or belief, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics or status;


Recognising also that forms of expression that offend, shock or disturb will not on that account alone amount to hate speech and that action against the use of hate speech should serve to protect individuals and groups of persons rather than particular beliefs, ideologies or religions;”

In the Pussy Riot case, the feminist applicants, wearing flashy clothes and balaclavas, burst into Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral and attempted to perform a song “Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away” from the altar, in order to protest against the Orthodox Patriarch support of Putin’s politics. They were put in custody and found guilty by the District Court under Article 213 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code of hooliganism for reasons of religious hatred and enmity and sentenced each of them to two years’ imprisonment. The trial court held that the applicants’ choice of venue and their apparent disregard for the cathedral’s rules of conduct had demonstrated their enmity towards the feelings of Orthodox believers, and that the religious feelings of those present in the cathedral had therefore been offended.


In contrast, the European Court found that, although certain reactions to the applicants’ actions might have been warranted by the demands of protecting the rights of others on account of the breach of the rules of conduct in a religious institution, the applicants actions and speech did not rise to the level of hate speech as the applicants’ actions neither contained elements of violence, nor stirred up or justified violence, hatred or intolerance of believers.


The Court reiterated that, in principle, peaceful and non-violent forms of expression should not be made subject to the threat of imposition of a custodial sentence or criminal sanctions and concluded to a violation of Article 10 of the Convention since the sanctions were not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.

2. Russian Extremism Law in the Context of Religious Literature

In the Said Nursi’s followers’ case, the ban of religious books as extremist publications by national courts was based on the Extremism Law, specifically on its definition of extremist activity at Article 1, and in particular incitement of religious discord (Article 1.1.3) and propaganda about people’s superiority or deficiency on the basis of their attitude to religion (Article 1.1.4).


The Court underlined from the outset that the Extremism Law does not require any element of violence or incitement to violence for such an activity to constitute “extremist activity”, a point which has been criticized by the Venice Commission[5] in its 2012 Opinion.[6]


Regarding Article 1.1 point 3 of the Law, the Venice Commission stated that “in order to qualify ‘stirring up of social, racial, ethnic or religious discord’ as ‘extremist activity’, the definition should expressly require the element of violence.”


Regarding Article 1.1 point 4 of the Law ‘propaganda of the exceptional nature, superiority or deficiency of persons on the basis of their social, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic affiliation or attitude to religion’, the Commission found:


“In the view of the Venice Commission, to proclaim as extremist any religious teaching or proselytising activity aimed at proving that a certain worldview is a superior explanation of the universe, may affect the freedom of conscience or religion of many persons and could easily be abused in an effort to suppress a certain church thereby affecting not only the freedom of conscience or religion but also the freedom of association. The ECtHR protects proselytism and the freedom of the members of any religious community or church to ‘try to convince’ other people through ‘teachings’. The freedom of conscience and religion is of an intimate nature and is therefore subject to fewer possible limitations in comparison to other human rights: only manifestations of this freedom can be limited, but not the teachings themselves.”


And the Commission concluded:

“It therefore appears that under the extremist activity in point 4, not only religious extremism involving violence but also the protected expressions of freedom of conscience and religion may lead to the application of preventive and corrective measures. This seems to be confirmed by worrying reports of extensive scrutiny measures of religious literature having led, in recent years, to the qualification of numerous religious texts as ‘extremist material’.”


The European Court actually followed the same line and found that the application of these provisions of the Law to Said Nursi publications violated the right to freedom of expression of religious beliefs of its followers since the Russian authorities had not demonstrated any incitement to violence or hatred.


3. Systematic Reliance on One-Sided Experts’ Reports


The Court first noted that the national courts simply endorsed the overall findings of one-sided experts’ reports to declare the religious books extremist, without making any meaningful assessment of those findings. They instructed linguists and psychologists, who were not expert in religions, to examine the religious texts and to provide the courts with a report on their qualification of extremist publications. This alone was not conform to what experts’ reports are supposed to provide. The Court stated:


“The Court notes that the District Court endorsed the experts’ conclusions without making any meaningful assessment of them, stating simply that it had no reason to doubt them. (…) Moreover, the relevant expert examinations went far beyond resolving merely language or psychology issues. Rather than restricting themselves to defining the meaning of particular words and expressions or explaining their potential psychological impact, they provided in essence a legal qualification of the texts. Indeed, it is evident from the judgment that it was not the court which made the crucial legal findings as to the extremist nature of the books, but the linguistics and psychology experts. The Court stresses that all legal matters must be resolved exclusively by the courts.”


The Court also noted that the national courts ignored the fact that Nursi’s books belonged to moderate, mainstream Islam. It observed that Said Nursi is a well-known Turkish Muslim theologian and commentator of the Qur’an. Muslim authorities both in Russia and abroad, as well as Islamic studies scholars, all affirm that Said Nursi’s texts belong to moderate mainstream Islam, advocate open and tolerant relationships and cooperation between religions, and oppose any use of violence.


However, the national courts denied the applicants the possibility to provide evidence in this regard and rebut their experts’ reports. The Court found:


It is also significant that the applicants were unable to contest the findings of the expert reports or to effectively put forward arguments in defence of their position. Indeed, the District Court summarily rejected all evidence submitted by them, including the opinions of Muslim authorities and Islamic studies scholars who explained the historical context in which the books had been written, their place in the body of Islamic religious literature, in particular the fact that they belonged to moderate rather than radical Islam, their importance for the Russian Muslim community and their general message of tolerance, interreligious cooperation and opposition to violence (…). Although the above facts were plainly relevant for the assessment of whether banning the books was justified, the Koptevskiy District Court did not make any meaningful analysis of that material, holding that it should be disregarded because the persons cited by the applicants were not linguists or psychologists and were therefore not competent to establish the meaning of the contested texts. (emphasis added)


The European Court previously found a violation of Article 10 of the Convention on account of a breach of equality of arms in freedom-of-expression cases, in particular in situations where the applicants had been hindered in adducing evidence in support of their position or where the domestic courts had dismissed all the arguments in the applicant’s defence in a summary manner, thereby stripping him of the procedural protection that he had been entitled to enjoy by virtue of his rights under Article 10 of the Convention.


The Court reached the same conclusion in the present case and concluded that the domestic courts did not apply standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 10.


The Court also found that the national court took terms and expressions out of context to declare the books extremist.


Relying on the experts’ reports, the domestic court noted, in particular, that Muslims were described in the book positively as “the faithful” and “the just”, while everyone else was described negatively as “the dissolute”, “the philosophers”, “the idle talkers” and “little men”. The book also proclaimed that not to be a Muslim was an “infinitely big crime”. The domestic court concluded from those expressions that the book treated non-Muslims as inferior to Muslims.


Although the European Court accepted that some people might be offended by such statements, it reiterated that merely because a remark may be perceived as offensive or insulting by particular individuals or groups does not mean that it constitutes “hate speech”.


Whilst such sentiments are understandable, they alone cannot set the limits of freedom of expression. For the Court, the key issue in the present case was thus whether the statements in question, when read as a whole and in their context, could be seen as promoting violence, hatred or intolerance.


The Court found that the domestic court did not assess the statements in question in the light of the book as a whole; it quoted them out of their immediate textual context and failed to examine which idea they sought to impart. In particular, it did not take into account the fact that they were part of a religious text and that, according to the experts, such statements were common in religious texts because any monotheistic religion was “characterised by a psychologically based belief in the superiority of its world-view over all other world-views, which made it necessary to substantiate the choice of that world-view”, in particular by claiming that it was better than the others.


Although the impugned statements clearly promoted the idea that it was better to be a Muslim than a non-Muslim, the Court found significant that they did not insult, hold up to ridicule or slander non-Muslims; nor did they use abusive terms in respect of them or of matters regarded as sacred by them.


Furthermore, there was no indication in the judgment that the domestic court perceived those expressions as capable of leading to public disturbances. Neither the domestic courts nor the Government referred to any circumstances indicative of a sensitive background at the material time – such as existence of interreligious tensions or an atmosphere of hostility and hatred between religious communities in Russia – against which the impugned statements could risk unleashing violence, giving rise to serious interreligious frictions or leading to similar harmful consequences.


In view of the above, the Court considered that the above-mentioned statements were not shown to be capable of inciting violence, hatred or intolerance.

4. Denial of Proselytism Rights

Lastly, the domestic court endorsed the experts’ finding that the books in question could influence the reader by making him adopt the author’s religious ideology and that that was indeed the author’s intention.


In this regard, the European Court reiterated that freedom to manifest one’s religion includes the right to try to convince one’s neighbour, for example through “teaching”, failing which “freedom to change [one’s] religion or belief”, enshrined in Article 9, would be likely to remain a dead letter, and stressed that, in the absence of improper proselytism, e.g. through the use of violence, the mere fact that the author’s intention was to convince the readers to adopt his religious beliefs was insufficient, in the Court’s view, to justify banning the book.


In particular, the Court could not discern any element in the domestic courts’ analysis which would allow it to conclude that the book in question incited violence, religious hatred or intolerance, that the context in which it had been published was marked by heightened tensions or special social or historical background in Russia or that its circulation had led or could lead to harmful consequences. The Court concluded that it was not necessary, in a democratic society, to ban the book in question.


In conclusion, the Court found that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.


The findings of the European Court in the Said Nursi case invalidated the provisions of the Russian Extemism Law in the following way.


It found that in order to qualify religious publications as ‘extremist activity’ on the basis that they were ‘stirring up of religious discord’, the national courts must demonstrate that the publications in question, when read as a whole and in their context, could be seen as promoting violence, hatred or intolerance.


It also found that the expression of the belief in the superiority of its world-view over all other world-views, which makes it necessary to substantiate the choice of that world-view, in particular by claiming that it was better than the others, is common to all religions and does not suffice for accusing religious publications of being an ‘extremist activity’ based on ‘propaganda about people’s superiority or deficiency on the basis of their attitude to religion’.


The same goes with proselytism, which is a right protected by the European Convention. The mere fact that the author’s intention was to convince the readers to adopt his religious beliefs is insufficient to justify banning a book.


As long as there is no element which would allow the Court to conclude that the book in question incited violence, religious hatred or intolerance, that the context in which it had been published was marked by heightened tensions or that its circulation had led or could lead to harmful consequences, the Court found that the ban of the book violated Article 10 interpreted in the light of Article 9 of the Convention.


The Court also found that the systematic and wholesale reliance by Russian courts on the findings of one-sided experts’ reports, without any possibility for the defendants to bring contradictory evidence, breached the principle of equality of arms and violated the standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 10.


Those findings should entail further developments since, as the Venice Commission already noted back in 2012, the Russian authorities have qualified numerous religious texts as ‘extremist materials’ in recent years and numerous applications are pending at the European Court, filed by various religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists and others.


[1] Ibragim Ibragimov and others v. Russia, Nos 1413/08 and 28621/11.

[2] Gündüz v. Turkey, No. 35071/97, para. 41.

[3] Mariya Alekhina v. Russia, No. 38004/12.

[4] ECRI, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, under the Council of Europe.

[5] European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), under the Council of Europe.

[6] Opinion of the Venice Commission on the Federal Law on Combating Extremist Activity, adopted by the Venice Commission at its 91st Plenary Session (Venice, 15-16 June 2012).



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CHINA/VATICAN: China and Vatican to sign landmark deal over bishops

Under agreement, Beijing would recognize pope as head of China’s Catholics in return for Vatican recognition of excommunicated Chinese bishops


By Francis X. Rocca and Eva Dou


The Wall Street Journal (14.09.2018) – – China and the Vatican are set to sign a landmark agreement later this month ending a long struggle between Beijing’s Communist rulers and the pope over who chooses the leaders of Catholicism in the world’s most populous country, according to two people familiar with the matter.


Reactions to the deal, which gives both sides a say in appointing the church’s bishops in China, are likely to be sharply divided, with some hailing a diplomatic coup by the Vatican that draws China closer to the West and others warning of an important defeat for the principle of religious freedom.


The controversial deal would include the first official recognition by Beijing that the pope is the head of the Catholic Church in China. In return, Pope Francis would formally recognize seven excommunicated Chinese bishops who were appointed by the Communist government without Vatican approval.


“It is a baby step by China toward recognizing some of the framework of the Western world,” said Francesco Sisci, an Italian who teaches international relations at China Renmin University in Beijing. “It doesn’t go as far as recognizing what we in the West call religious freedom but it is a degree of religious autonomy.”


Others, including some U.S. diplomats, are concerned the pope is conceding a strong influence over church leadership to an avowedly atheist authoritarian regime.


“This is a strange step backward on terrain over which the church has fought, not for centuries but millennia,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italy’s L’Espresso magazine. “The church has managed to free itself from control of sovereigns and governments on ecclesiastical matters such as the naming of bishops, but now this achievement is clamorously contradicted by the agreement with China.”


The pact with the Vatican could still fall through or be delayed due to unforeseen events, one of the people familiar with the matter said. The two sides are close to signing even though China’s government has recently intensified a crackdown on Christians and other religious groups, through measures including closing churches and removing religious symbols such as crosses and the domes of mosques. The deal is thus expected to stir criticism of the pope already under fire from within and outside the church for his handling of clerical sexual abuse.


In practice, China’s Communist Party is unlikely to give up control over any religion, even Catholicism, which has relatively few adherents in China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a program to “Sinicize” all religions to make sure they don’t offer alternate viewpoints to the Communist Party. As part of that policy, Beijing is strengthening its sway over clerical appointments and religious teachings to emphasize patriotism.


The Chinese leadership has been engaged for years in a campaign to diminish the influence of the Dalai Lama, who remains popular among Tibetans despite nearly six decades in exile. It has also ramped up a mass detention program for Muslims in its northwest region of Xinjiang, where Beijing is worried about violent separatism fanned by militant Islam. Giving the Vatican too much say risks setting a bad precedent in Beijing’s eyes.


The Vatican had hoped to sign the deal in the spring, but needed several more months to overcome resistance from some Chinese Catholics, one of the persons familiar with the matter said. In particular, the bishop of the southeastern diocese of Shantou balked at stepping aside in favor of an excommunicated bishop as part of the agreement, this person said.


Pope Francis’ pursuit of the deal reflects his desire for better relations with China—where Christianity is growing fast, though most new adherents are Protestants—and an end to divisions among Catholics there.


China’s estimated 10 million Catholics are legally supposed to worship only in churches approved by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a state-controlled body not recognized by the Vatican. But many Catholics attend unregistered churches in so-called underground communities led by bishops loyal only to Rome.


Beijing is eager for the publicity boost that mending ties with the Vatican would bring, even as the Communist Party prosecutes a systematic campaign to bring Catholicism and all other religions more firmly under its control.


A new agreement would allow the pope to veto new nominees for bishops proposed by the Chinese government. Beijing’s major condition for signing has been that the pope recognize the seven Chinese bishops excommunicated by Rome over the years.


“The dialogue between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China continues,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said. “There’s nothing else to add at the moment.”

At a routine Chinese Foreign Ministry press conference on Thursday, spokesman Geng Shuang declined to confirm the deal’s status, but said China was sincere in its efforts for better relations with the Vatican.


China broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951. In recent decades, the two sides have cooperated informally to agree on most bishops appointments, but Beijing has periodically named bishops without the pope’s approval.


At the last meeting of the negotiating teams, in Rome in June, the Vatican assured the Chinese representatives that Pope Francis would sign the necessary document to lift the excommunications of the seven government-appointed bishops and recognize them as the bishops of their dioceses about a week before the deal is signed, said one of the people familiar with the matter.


That recognition would require two bishops who have shunned government control, in the dioceses of Shantou and Mindong, to step aside in favor of government-appointed bishops. They would be the first so-called underground bishops to be asked to do so by the Vatican.


Shantou Bishop Zhuang Jianjian and Mindong Bishop Guo Xijin couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday.


Also as part of the deal, the government is expected to recognize the “underground” bishop of Qiqihar, near the Russian border, one of the people said. Qiqihar Bishop Wei Jingyi couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.


The agreement is explicitly provisional, meaning that it allows for the possibility of revisions after one or two years if either party sees the need. Both parties have agreed that the text of the agreement won’t be published even after it is signed, one of the people said.


Critics of the prospective deal have cast it as a capitulation by the Vatican.


“I would make a cartoon showing the pope kneeling and offering the keys of the kingdom of heaven and saying, ‘Now, please recognize me as pope,’” Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong, told an interviewer in March. “The advisers of the pope are giving him advice to renounce his authority.”


The agreement on bishop appointments would leave unresolved other major questions between the Vatican and China, including the position of most of the more than 30 bishops recognized by Rome but not by Beijing. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican remains a distant goal.


—Kersten Zhang contributed to this article.



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EUROPEAN UNION/CHINA: Why those fleeing religious persecution in China should be granted asylum

HRWF / Bitter Winter (14.09.2018) – – Speeches of Massimo Introvigne and Rosita Šorytė at the 2018 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, September 13, 2018.


Massimo Introvigne, the repression of religion in China: consequences for OSCE Participating States


On February 1, 2018, a new Religious Affairs Regulation came into force in China. The consensus of legal experts is that it imposed new restrictions on the “gray market” of religions and churches that are not part of the five official government-controlled religious institutions. It also provided new tools for persecuting the religious communities in the “black market,” included in the official list of xie jiao, “heterodox teachings” that are entirely prohibited and persecuted. Being active in a xie jiao is a crime punished by art. 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code with a term to three to seven years “or more” in jail.


Tibet and Xinjiang have special regulations, but the general climate hostile to religion has led to increased persecution of Uyghur and ethnically Kazakh Muslims in Xinjiang and dissident Buddhists in Tibet. Scholars estimate that “transformation through education” camps, which are in fact concentration camps, host 1,5 million inmates, two-thirds of them Uyghurs.


OSCE participating States have multiple relations with China, and we would encourage them to raise human rights and religious liberty issues in a more decisive way in bilateral meetings.


The OSCE space is also affected by the situation in China, as participating States receive a growing number of religion-based asylum requests by Chinese citizens. The largest contingents of them are Uyghurs, particularly in Central Asia, and members of religions listed as xie jiao, particularly in Western Europe and North America. There are still refugees from Falun Gong but in recent years the highest number comes from The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese Christian new religious movement listed as a xie jiao since 1995 and credited by governmental sources with some four million members in China. The Church of Almighty God has been persecuted since 1995 or before, and more than 300,000 members of the Church have been detained in China. Some NGOs have documented several instances of torture and extra-judicial killings. It has also been targeted by consistent campaigns of fake news, accusing it of crimes rigorous investigation by Western scholars proved it has not committed.


Because of the fake news, general hostility to refugees, and confusions about how refugee laws should be interpreted, out of more than 2,200 asylum requests of members of this Church in the OSCE area, excluding the United States, only 320 have been accepted.


We commend Canada and Sweden for its prevalence of favorable decisions and note that the Italian authorities have started a cooperation with scholars for receiving more accurate information on this and other groups.


But in other countries, most of the asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God and other persecuted Chinese religions are rejected and, in some cases, deported back to China where they quickly “disappear.”


We recommend that serious and fair consideration be given to religion-based asylum requests by Chinese refugees, including those from The Church of Almighty God, in all participating states, and that nobody should be deported without seriously evaluating the risks he or she would face in China, which may include incarceration, torture, and even death.


Rosita Šorytė, Intolerance and Discrimination Against Religion-Based Refugees from China in the OSCE Area: The Case of The Church of Almighty God


These days there are a few issues that are particularly toxic in our societies: refugees and China. And my very young and still very small organization – ORLIR – is dealing with both of them.


We see how the issue of migration is turning apart countries, changing alliances, and helping populists of all kind to rise to power. It took us and media a long time to finally acknowledge that most of those people who massively arriving in Europe are not refugees but migrants. Still in the media confusion persists and very often information is inaccurate and blurred.


We all know that there is a big difference between migrants, searching for a better economic life, and refugees, who for reasons of war and persecution are fleeing their countries of origin. Some of these people have only two choices: to be persecuted, tortured and even killed, or flee their country and try to seek protection.


I perfectly understand the challenge for the authorities of recipient countries to distinguish who is persecuted and in imminent danger, and who is pretending for the sake of getting the right to stay. My humble experience of talking to many refugees shows that those who are pretending being persecuted and are better actors and are getting refugee status. And those who are in real danger very often fail to prove their case and thus are sent back to their oppressors.


I could tell many moving and tragic stories of people who flee severe persecution in China on religious grounds. I will focus today on members of a new Christian group called The Church of Almighty God. The Church of Almighty God is one of the largest and fastest growing religious groups in China. And this is exactly why it is severely persecuted. Any member identified by Chinese authorities would be sent to jail, most of them will be tortured in order to extract information about other members of the Church. They will be sent to re-education camps and, once released, will be kept under watch, and eventually put in jail again if they would not agree to cooperate with Chinese authorities and renounce their faith. Cases of suspect organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience of this Church have also been reported.


Most members of The Church of Almighty God would flee their country only and when they have confirmed information that their arrest is imminent. They do not flee to seek our jobs or get financial or economic benefits but to survive and protect other brothers and sisters of their group. By fleeing China, they lose everything: their families, friends, homes, and jobs. They arrive in our countries with nothing but their faith and their hope that fellow brothers and sisters would support them. They arrive carrying a lot of pain and deep trauma. Very often, out of fear, they are not able to present their cases well enough and end up being denied asylum or even being deported.


On August 31, despite protests by the Red Cross, the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, and several NGOs, including mine, a member of this Church, sister Zhao Xueliang, was deported back to China from Germany. She has “disappeared” in China and her whereabouts are unknown ever since. My pleading today to the representatives of the participating States is, please hear and remember the name of The Church of Almighty God. Please carry out serious research about this group, do not believe what Chinese media, and Western media that copy them, are saying but read reliable information from independent NGOs and academic sources. We have no right to play with people’s lives and we cannot send them to their death.


Another toxic issue is to talk about China. Yes, China spares no efforts and financial means to persuade us that there are no human rights problems there. They bribe and buy everybody they can: politicians, journalists, even academics who would be paid to say that what we are presenting to you today it’s not true. Some of the meetings we organize during international political or academic conferences are half empty because people know: once you will be spotted by Chinese authorities participating in this kind of meetings, you will never go to China again. China plays an important role at the United Nations to kill every mention of human rights, and human rights are rarely part of the agendas of bilateral meetings either because everybody wants to have good economics contracts with China. But, if we cannot change Chinese politics, perhaps we can at least protect those who flee Chinese persecution. It is not only our moral duty to protect those who are in imminent danger. States have a legal obligation under international law.



The paper of HRWF on this issue was already published in our newsletter.



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WORLD: Global Gathering Presses for Greater Religious Freedoms

By Knox Thames


DipNote (12.09.2018) – – In the early hours before the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, I joined a group of survivors of 21st century religious persecution to tour the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Museum is a stark reminder of the failure of the international community to protect Jews from the horrors of genocide and the millions murdered for their faith and religious identity. But tragically persecution based on religion or belief continues today. Irene Weiss, a Holocaust survivor whose picture at Auschwitz hangs in the Museum, keynoted the Ministerial’s opening ceremony in the powerful Hall of Remembrance. Behind her stood survivors of religious persecution from Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, and Vietnam, representing multiple faith communities including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Yezidi, Baha’i, Ahmadi, and Buddhist. We each lit candles to remember those who perished in the Holocaust and individuals suffering today.


The presence of these brave survivors made clear the need for the first-ever Ministerial. Persecution continues in too many places: ongoing repression of and atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the brutal Chinese crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Christians, attacks by terrorists on Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Pakistan, authoritarian repression of Baha’is in Iran and now Yemen, and all faiths in North Korea. Studies show limits on religious freedom by state and non-state actors at all-time highs, impacting 83 percent of the global population.


In response, the United States convened a broad swath of governments, religious groups, and civil society to discuss how to push back against these trends and ensure everyone can enjoy freedom of conscience, the freedom to believe or not believe as one feels led. Our government spoke to the assembly of nations at the highest levels: Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Haley, USAID Administrator Green, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Brownback, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, and other leading officials. More than 80 different governments from every region of the world – Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America – joined with more than 400 members of civil society organizations and religious communities. It was unprecedented.


The Ministerial was results oriented, intended to be more than just a “talk shop” of handwringing or self-congratulations. The two first days of the three-day event were specifically for civil society – to equip NGOs with information about obtaining resources for their important work, and for us to learn from them about the challenges they face and their ideas for solutions. To dive deeper, we convened breakout sessions focusing on topics like legal limitations, cultural heritage, atrocity prevention, women’s rights and religious freedom, and rights of minorities. The IRF Roundtable also coordinated more than 30 side events around Washington on the margins of the Ministerial. In Congress, a special event was held with a network of parliamentarians from other countries with the aim of fostering greater collaboration on religious freedom.


To keep the discussions at the Ministerial grounded on the real impacts of this persecution, we spread survivor testimonies throughout all three days, so as to remind everyone of the challenges real people face daily. I had the honor of introducing Peter Bhatti, brother of slain Pakistani activist Shahbaz Bhatti, and Razia Sultana, an advocate for Rohingya rights working in the Bangladesh refugee camps. In addition, we convened a special training for interested groups at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) about how to apply for grants from the State Department’s human rights and refugee bureaus, as well as USAID (links to PowerPoint presentations here). More than 200 hundred members of civil society attended, from a variety of organizations, faith advocacy groups, and countries.


We also challenged likeminded governments that support religious freedom, as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to take new actions. Here, the United States led by example. We launched two new initiatives: the International Religious Freedom Fund (I-ReFF) and the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, both aimed at bringing new resources to assist persecuted individuals or their advocates. In addition, to equip NGOs for greater impact, we launched a special accelerator workshop called Boldline to support and scale innovative public-private partnerships to promote religious freedom.


At the conclusion of the Ministerial, the Secretary released the groundbreaking Potomac Declaration and Plan of Action. The Potomac Declaration reflects the importance of promoting religious freedom as a universal human right to help ensure greater peace and stability within and among nations. The Potomac Plan of Action provides the roadmap for meeting that goal, outlining a comprehensive framework of activities to promote religious freedom and to respond to persecution on account of religion, belief, or non-belief. The Plan of Action has six chapters: Defending the Human Right of Freedom of Religion or Belief; Confronting Legal Limitations; Advocating for Equal Rights and Protections for All, Including Members of Religious Minorities; Responding to Genocide and other Mass Atrocities; Preserving Cultural Heritage; and Strengthening the Response.


Finally, we wanted to directly address particularly severe violations of religious freedom. In response to several of the most severe instances of persecution, participating delegations endorsed three country statements on Burma, China, and Iran. In addition, we issued three thematic statements on global trends undermining religious freedom: blasphemy and apostasy laws, violations by non-state actors, and counterterrorism as a false pretext for religious freedom repression.


Never before had ministers convened to focus on advancing religious freedom for all. The event was well received and positive momentum was generated, with several countries offering to host follow up conferences. Immediately before and after, several governments launched new special ambassadorships for religious freedom: the United Kingdom, Germany, Mongolia, Bahrain, and Taiwan, joining others from Norway, Denmark, the EU, and a special office in Canada. Other governments are now considering doing this or undertaking similar initiatives. Both Vice President Pence and Secretary Pompeo pledged the Ministerial would be an annual event here in Washington.


While a successful opening salvo, our work has only just begun. Persecution on account of religion or belief remains a daily reality for millions around the world. However, the Ministerial has better positioned committed governments and civil society to unite and meet this challenge. From these efforts, hopefully individuals targeted for their beliefs – men and women of any faith or none, their advocates, and those holding the “wrong” beliefs – will know that the international community is working together like never before to assist them. Vice President Pence said it well: “As we labor, we can take confidence from the determination of the nations gathered here to advance a cause of religious liberty. Our cause is just. We’re advancing the first freedom that is essential to the people of all of our nations and to the world.”


About the Author: Knox Thames currently serves as the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State.



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INDIA: Police in India lay charges against 270 Christian ‘liars’

Uttar Pradesh officials accuse Pentecostal congregation of lying about Hinduism, drugging people to convert them

By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

UCA News (12.09.2018) – – Police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state have charged more than 270 Christians with “spreading lies about Hinduism and drugging people to try and convert them to Christianity.”


Christians in Jaunpur district said on Sept. 10 that the move showed religious bias and was an attempt to terrorize Christians.


Police in the district filed the charges against 271 Christians of a Pentecostal church last week after being directed to do so by a local court.


The court directive followed a complaint lodged by activist group Hindu Jagran Manch that Christians were propagating misinformation about the Hindu religion and attempting to convert people during Sunday services.


Pastors Durga Prasad Yadav, Kirit Rai and Jitendra Ram were named on the charge sheet while the others were not identified.


The Hindu group said it went to court after the Christians refused to stop conducting Sunday prayer services despite repeated warnings.


The group’s lawyer, Brijesh Singh, told the court that for the last few years the Christians had been urging people in surrounding districts to come to their church in the village of Bhundly and attend prayer services.


“After prayers every Sunday and Tuesday, the priests used to tell lies about the Hindu religion and convince people to embrace Christianity. They also used to give prohibited medicine and drugs to visitors and convert them while they were under their influence,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted Singh as telling the court.


Local pastor A. Anil told that the allegations were “absolutely false and baseless.”


Christians have been worshiping there for the past 15 years and never had any problem until the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, the pastor said.


Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu guru-turned politician, leads the party in the state.


Adityanath is also head priest of Gorakhnath Math, a Hindu temple in Gorakhpur, a town in the Hindu-majority state of some 200 million people.


Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records incidents of persecution against Christians in India, told that hard-line Hindu activists had been threatening the pastors and their congregation against holding prayer meetings.


Opposition grew when the prayer meetings began to attract crowds when people claimed to be “healed by prayers.”


“The allegation of drugging people to convert people to Christianity is absurd — no one would do such a thing in Christianity,” Thomas said.

Hindu attacks on Christians across India have doubled as part of an unprecedented attempt to portray Christians as trying to destabilize the country, according to a Persecution Relief report in February. It recorded 736 incidents of persecution against Christians in 2017 against 348 in 2016.


Christians account for 2.3 per cent or 29 million of India’s population of 1.3 billion, some 80 percent of them Hindus.


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