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World Watch Monitor (06.09.2018) – Members of the European Parliament (EP) have called for the EU to “put the people of the world before our financial and political interests”, in a report about religious freedom.

The Annual Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief 2017, presented by the EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) and Religious Tolerance, points at the growing understanding of the importance of freedom of religion or belief around the world.

“We cannot accept that people are being killed, tortured, or oppressed, because of their religious convictions or beliefs,” said Adina Portaru, Legal Counsel for ADF International after the presentation of the report at the European Parliament on Wednesday (5 September).

The report calls for the position of the Special Envoy for FoRB outside the EU, Jan Figel, to be strengthened: he should play a more visible and central role in the EU’s external relations.

It focusses on 34 countries, in 19 of which people face significant restrictions in living in accordance with their faith. It urges the EU, for example, to “openly condemn” the anti-conversion laws in seven of India’s states and “encourage central government to push for their repeal”.

Although ostensibly aimed at preventing “forced conversions”, in reality such laws are often used to prevent all conversions – whether by force or free choice – and especially conversions to minority religions such as Christianity. Accusations of forced conversions also regularly lead to attacks.

The report also calls on the EU to work with Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws. “At least 19 people are on death row as a result of sentences passed under Section 295c166 of the penal code and many more are serving prison sentences”, the report said, adding “a reported 71 people have been killed by mobs due to blasphemy accusations since 1990”.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws caught the world’s attention with the conviction on blasphemy charges of Aasiya Noreen, a Christian woman, in 2009.

Noreen (better known as ‘Asia Bibi’) faces the death penalty and has been in prison, waiting for her appeal to be heard. In April Pakistan’s chief justice said he would decide, “soon,” her fate.

The parliamentary Intergroup in their report suggested the EU would “include FoRB as a priority in the next EU Pakistan Strategic engagement plan”. The situation for Pakistan’s minorities remained problematic, it said, and “the EU should ensure that protecting the rights of the citizens of Pakistan, especially minorities, is a priority for both parties”.

During a visit in December 2017 the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figeľ, told Pakistani officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe would depend on the release of Noreen.

In February, however, the EU renewed the trading agreement with Pakistan.

HRWF Preliminary Comments

 

The 48-page report of the Intergroup (https://bit.ly/2wMzod2) and its 98-page explanatory annex (http://www.religiousfreedom.eu/2018/09/04/2018-report-and-annex/) is of high quality but the methodology still needs a number of important improvements.

 

Ukraine is listed as a country with severe violations of religious freedom (the worst category) perpetrated in territories that it does not control any more  while Russia does not appear as such on the list of violators of religious freedom in the table of contents. Under the title “Ukraine” (Annex, pp 77-78), almost all the criticisms concern violations committed by Russia in Crimea and the separatist leaders in Donetsk and Lugansk.

 

Surprisingly, according to the report, Russia does not appear on the list of countries that violate religious freedom. However, in Russia,

 

  • The peaceful Muslim movement Tablighi Jamaat was banned in 2009
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in April 2017. All the properties and places of worship of their 395 congregations were confiscated and their 175,000 members were denied freedom of assembly even in private homes
  • 25 Jehovah’s Witness, including a Danish/EU citizen, have been arrested since then and are in pre-trial detention
  • 9 Jehovah’s Witnesses are under house arrest
  • At least 5 peaceful (Muslim) Said Nursi followers are also in prison
  • 5 Scientologists are in prison for the mere exercise of their religious freedom.

 

Among the 34 countries listed in the report, many do not have any people behind bars for the exercise of their religious freedom (Article 18 of the ICCPR). Russia is increasingly jailing peaceful believers but does not appear on the list of the countries where there are Minor Violations, Problematic Issues or Severe Violations…