HRWF Int’l (29.12.2016) – In 2016, three countries – NORTH KOREA, CHINA and IRAN – have imprisoned thousands of believers on the grounds of laws forbidding or restricting their basic rights to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). This is the conclusion of a report of Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l (Brussels) identifying 24 countries with FoRB prisoners which was posted this Thursday 29th December on its website (http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/).
“Prison terms are usually imposed on members of religious or belief groups on the basis of laws restricting the individual freedom to change religion and to carry out missionary activities as well as the collective freedoms of association, worship and assembly. However, members or leaders of peaceful and law-abiding religious movements are also imprisoned because of their religious identity and for any of their activities because their group has been banned or unduly denied registration, commented Willy Fautré, director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l.”
It is common knowledge that North Korea is by far the country which is keeping the highest number of believers (mainly Christians) in prisons and labor camps. “Countless numbers of persons in North Korea who attempt to practice their religious beliefs have been severely punished, even unto death,” according to the 400-page report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) into Human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK).
In China, Falun Gong practitioners, whose movement was banned in 1999, are massively put in prison while a dozen Catholic priests and bishops arrested by the police many years ago for being faithful to the Pope instead of swearing allegiance to the Communist Party have been missing since then. Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants belonging to the mushrooming network of house churches out of any state control, Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, systematically suspected of separatism, are also particular targets of the regime.
In Iran, the Baha’is, whose movement is considered a heresy of Islam, provide the highest number of prisoners. They are followed by home-grown Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians who extensively carry out missionary activities among their fellow citizens despite the risk of imprisonment and execution. Baluchi and Kurdish Sunnis as well as Sufis are also particular targets of the repression.
Twenty-four countries in all were identified by Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l for depriving believers and unbelievers of their freedom in 2014: Algeria, Azerbaijan (including secessionist Nagorno-Karabakh), China, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.
“In 2016, we documented 1500 individual cases of illegal imprisonment of believers belonging to 15 religious minorities and carried out campaigns to get their release. Among all denominations, Christians are in jail in the highest number of countries: 14 in all,” according to Fautré.
However, in South Korea, 562 young objectors to military service were still serving 18-month prison terms at the beginning of 2016. Since the Korean War, more than 18,000 Witnesses have been sentenced to a combined total of over 34,800 years in prison for refusing to perform military service. Other countries still imprison conscientious objectors: Eritrea (54), Singapore (13), Turkmenistan (2), Nagorno-Karabakh (1) and Azerbaijan (1).
Since the adoption of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2013, the European Institutions dispose of a mechanism that allows Brussels to defend believers and non-believers outside the EU and to promote FoRB in third countries. EU Delegations have been engaged in close monitoring of restrictions to FoRB in more than 100 countries.
“Our best wish for 2017 is that the EU converts its words into action and fully uses the EU Guidelines toolkit to get the release of many FoRB prisoners of conscience,” Fautré hopes.
The lists of prisoners per country can be consulted at: http://hrwf.eu/forb-intro/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/
(*) Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l has been monitoring freedom of religion or belief as a non-religious organization since 1989. In 2016 it covered in its daily newsletter 70 countries where there were incidents related to freedom of religion or belief, intolerance and discrimination.
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