SYRIA: Towards an international alliance of governments to support persecuted Christians

– Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Russia and the USA are the first candidates

Source: en.kremlin.ru

HRWF (02.11.2019) – At the end of October, Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, organized a conference to which he invited Russia’s President Putin and leaders of various Christian denominations from the Middle East to pave the way to an international alliance of European and other governments ready to prioritize support Christians in the Middle East and Africa persecuted by the Islamic State and other driving forces of political Islam.

A number of European governments – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – are planning to join such an alliance. The Vatican is interested in these developments.

Building up on his political and military success in Syria, Putin is now finding new allies in Europe where he wants to appear as the sole protector of Christians in the Middle East.

Russia and Hungary to discuss persecuted Christians

 Vatican News (01.11.2019) – Hungary wants to set up an international alliance of governments to support persecuted Christians in especially the Middle East, Africa, and other areas. The announcement came a day before Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin were to discuss the issue in Budapest with Middle East church leaders.

 By Stefan J. Bos

Hungary’s state secretary, for the aid of persecuted Christians, Tristan Azbej, is worried. He told Vatican News that Christians are now the most persecuted people in the world.

That’s why, he says, Hungary wants to set up an international alliance to help Christian believers and other faith minorities during an upcoming conference next month. “We have an aim of collecting and mobilizing governments on one platform. That would coordinate its efforts to help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, Africa, and also other minorities who are persecuted for their religion and belief,” he explained.

Coordination underway 

The Hungarian government is already coordinating efforts with the United States and Poland it seeks cooperation with other countries of Central and Eastern Europe such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Hungary says the move is also aimed to help persecuted to stay in their own countries rather than emigrate to the West.

The country has spent tens of millions of dollars on humanitarian aid, including such as rebuilding hospitals, schools, and churches in war-torn Syria and other nations.

The aid was welcomed at a conference in Budapest Tuesday attended by crucial church leaders representing Catholic, Orthodox and other Christians in the Middle East.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church noted that Christians feel alone amid ongoing violence that even killed infants. “Many times, we feel we are abandoned as Christians of the Middle East. We feel that we have no friends. That nobody cares about us,” he said.

Own interests 

“We have seen throughout these years of war that countries and governments are most interested in their interests about imposing their ideas and their agendas. But they don’t want to really care about the people,” the patriarch stressed.

He cited plans by the United States to protect oilfields in Syria as examples of such alleged egocentric behavior.

The patriarch and other church leaders warned there is little time to prevent the extinction of Christian communities in the Middle East.

Most Christians have fled the troubled region amid attacks by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Recommended reading

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/world/news/2019-11/russia-hungary-protect-persecuted-christians-middle-east.html

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/61937

https://mospat.ru/en/2019/10/31/news179377/

https://hungarytoday.hu/orban-after-putin-meeting-russia-west-cooperation-in-hungarys-interest/

https://en.abouna.org/en/content/putin-orbán-patriarchs-east-discuss-situation-mideast-christians

https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2019/10/31/hungarys-orban-good-relations-with-russia-are-a-necessity-can-help-middle-east-christians/

Putin pledges to ‘do everything to protect Christians in the Middle East’

 by Jeffrey Cimmino

After a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday, Putin expressed sorrow over the persecution experienced by Christians in the Middle East, according to the Associated Press. Russian leaders have worked to develop close ties with Syria’s Christian communities. Melkite Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart has called Russia’s intervention in the country a source of “hope for the country’s Christians.”

“The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity, and Christians are in peril there, facing persecution, being killed, raped, and robbed,” said Putin. “Russia will do everything to protect Christians in the Middle East. We must help them restore and preserve their holy sites, preserve their congregations.”

At a meeting later in the day, Putin expressed concern for the “massive exodus of Christians from the Middle East.”

“We are watching what’s happening to the Christians in the Middle East with tears in our eyes,” said Putin.

Russia’s efforts to work closely with Syria’s Christians have also earned praise from Syrian President Bashar Assad, who called Putin “the sole defender of Christian civilization one can rely on.” Putin has propped up the Assad regime against his opponents in the country’s civil war.

And while many Syrian Christians are concerned about Assad and his Russian backers, they also fear that any new government would either be weak or filled with extremists.




FRANCE: MIVILUDES will cease to exist on 1 January 2020

– HRWF (01.10.2019) – “The European Federation for Research on Sectarianism (FECRIS) assists victims of sectarian discrimination and receives support of our government”, said the spokesperson of the French delegation at the OSCE/ ODIHR Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw.

 

He was hereby partly using his right of reply against CAP/ Freedom of Conscience, a NGO with ECOSOC status which had criticized the financing by the French state of FECRIS. For years, this anti-cult organization was repeatedly pointed at for defaming minority religious groups in Europe and for supporting its Russian vice-president, who was notorious for his hate speech towards Jehovah’s Witnesses (now banned in Russia since 2017), Mormons, Hare Krishna devotees and other non-Orthodox religions.

 

In 2017, the Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions and Humanism in Antwerp published a book in French entitled “Les mouvements antisectes et la laïcité: Le cas de la FECRIS” (https://bit.ly/2p2wRu9) by Patricia Duval and Willy Fautré, which was an updated translation of their book in English “Anti-sect movements and State Neutrality. A Study Case: The FECRIS” (https://bit.ly/2ohDoRo) published several years ago in the university journal “Staat-Religion-Gesellschaft” by the Technical University of Dresden (Editors: Gerhard Besier and Hubert Seiwert).

 

Now, the end of the existence of the controversial MIVILUDES which for years had been repeatedly accused of defamation and discrimination by French and foreign NGOs and sometimes sentenced by courts, has been programmed: 31 December 2019.

 

Today, 1 October, Thomas Mahler said in Le Point, in an article entitled “Does the government abandon the fight against the sects?”:

 

Miviludes had no president for a year and the retirement of Serge Blisko. It is now downright threatened with dissolution, as revealed this morning France Inter. Yesterday, Anne Josso, Secretary General of the Interministerial Mission of vigilance and fight against sectarian drifts, announced internally that the structure would be attached to the Ministry of the Interior from 1 January, and therefore no longer depend on Matignon. Anne Josso was received by Marc Guillaume, Secretary General of the Government, who spoke of a “redevelopment” and downsizing. Originally composed of fifteen people with seven specialized advisers and administrative staff, the Miviludes should be limited to three or four civil servants. It should merge with the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalization (CIPDR). (…)

 

For Miviludes officials as well as for activists, there is no doubt: the fight against sectarian aberrations is no longer a government priority. An activist explains us, for example, that each year, the Ministry of the Interior must issue a circular inviting the prefects to organize an information meeting with Miviludes and local associations or social services, “which leads to 40 or 50 meetings a year. But this year, Castaner (Ministry of Interior) did not do it.” (Translation by CAP/ Freedom of conscience).

 

See some articles published in French media:

https://www.liberation.fr/checknews/2019/10/01/sectes-la-miviludes-va-t-elle-disparaitre_1754651 

https://www.franceinter.fr/lutte-contre-les-sectes-la-miviludes-va-t-elle-disparaitre

https://www.lepoint.fr/societe/le-gouvernement-abandonne-t-il-la-lutte-contre-les-sectes-01-10-2019-2338675_23.php 

 




UK: ‘Gay Cakes’: Ashers Bakingheads for Strasbourg

– Law and Religion UK (15.08.2019) – https://bit.ly/2ZcbKlr – The BBC reports that the judgment in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd & Ors (Northern Ireland) [2018] UKSC 49 is to be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. Regular readers will recall that the Supreme Court held that there had been no associative discrimination because “In a nutshell, the objection was to the message and not to any particular person or persons” [34] and that the McArthurs’ objection had not been to Mr Lee personally but to being required to promote the message on the cake: “The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message, not to the man” and Ashers had been quite prepared to serve Mr Lee in other ways [47]. We noted the judgment here.

According to the report on the BBC website, Mr Lee’s solicitors argue that the Supreme Court failed to give appropriate weight to his Convention rights and that “The Supreme Court ruling blurred the line, creates legal uncertainty for all of us in Northern Ireland, and the ECHR is the appropriate place to clarify this issue.” Further, there is no such a thing as a “Christian business”; and a claim that a commercial organisation can have principles of conscience that must be respected should not be given legal recognition.
The first issue, presumably, is whether or not the ECtHR will declare the complaint admissible.
Recommended reading
‘Gay Cakes’: UK Supreme Court finds in favour of Ashers Baking
http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2018/10/11/gay-cakes-uk-supreme-court-finds-in-favour-of-ashers-baking/



RUSSIA: Jehovah’s Witnesses: 612 home raids since the 2017 ban

– HRWF (07.08.2019) – The state repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses is accelerating month after month in Russia according to recent statistics provided by the headquarters of their movement in the US to Human Rights Without Frontiers, such as those about home raids: 612.

2018

281 (23.4/month)

2019 (Jan-July)

331 (47.2/month)

Over 100% increase from 2018

June/July 2019

139 (69.5/month)

Nearly 200% increase from 2018

As of July 31, 2019

241 JWs facing criminal charges

39 in detention (pretrial or prison)

27 under house arrest

As of Aug 5

244JWs facing criminal charges

39in detention (pretrial or prison)

27under house arrest

Over 100 under a variety of other restrictions




RUSSIA: Prosecutions against religious organizations and believers in June and July

SOVA Center (01.08.2019) – https://bit.ly/33cL3Rb– In July, we learned about several administrative prosecution cases related to religious literature that we consider inappropriately prohibited. Back in early June, the Orenburg District Court of the Orenburg Region ruled against Rustam Yerzhakovsky, a citizen of Kazakhstan, who intended to export to Turkey one copy of The Fortress of a Muslim – a book that has been recognized as extremist in Russia. Yerzhakovsky was fined one thousand rubles with confiscation of a banned book under Article 16.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (non-observance of interdictions and (or) restrictions on exportation of goods from the customs territory of the Eurasian Economic Union). The Fortress of a Muslim is a popular collection of prayers for every day, which, in our opinion, contains no signs of incitement to religious hatred, therefore the courts did not have grounds to recognize it as extremist.

In late July, Khava Shakhtamirova, a resident of Novy Urengoy, was fined two thousand rubles under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses for the fact that she offered passersby to study the brochure “Women in Islam versus Women in Judeo-Christian Tradition.” We regard the ban on this book as inappropriate since its text is respectful of Judaism and Christianity.

In mid-July, the Supreme Court of Russia reduced by three months the lengthy terms of imprisonment faced by each of the four Crimea residents convicted in the Bakhchysarai Hizb ut-Tahrircase: Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, Zevri Abseitov, and Remzi Memetov. They were convicted under Article 205.5 Part 1 or Part 2 (organizing the activities of a terrorist organization or participation in it) and under Article 278 utilizing Article 35 Part 2 and Article 30 Part 1 of the Criminal Code (preparation for forcible seizure of power by an organized group by prior conspiracy). We believe that accusing members of Hizb ut-Tahrir of involvement in terrorist activities solely on the basis of their party activities (holding meetings, reading literature, etc.) is inappropriate. Qualifying any positive comments on Hizb ut-Tahrir activities as appeals for terrorism or justification of terrorism is also inappropriate.

Prosecutions against Jehovah’s Witnessescontinued in July. Early in the month, Alexander Solovyov, a follower of this doctrine in Perm, was found guilty of participation in the activity of an extremist organization (Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to a fine of 300 thousand rubles.

In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, cases under Article 282.2 Parts 1 and 2 of the Criminal Code (organizing the activity of an extremist organization and participation in it) were opened in July against nine Jehovah’s Witnesses, two of whom – Alexei Oreshkov and Alexander Vavilov – were also incarcerated. Sergey Yavushkin and Alexander Bondarchuk were put under house arrest in Kemerovo under Article 282.2 Part 2 of the Criminal Code

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested in Kaluga; one of them, Roman Makhnyov, stated that he had been subjected to inhuman treatment by the local FSB officers.

Searches in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ residences were conducted in a number of regions, including in the Trans-Baikal Region, which has never reported any information about criminal proceedings opened against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The decision to recognize the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and 395 local organizations as extremist was made by the Supreme Court of Russia in April 2017. We believe that this decision, which entailed mass criminal proceedings against the believers under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code, was legally unfounded, and regard it as a manifestation of religious discrimination.

Falun Gong and Faizrakhmanist community (Muslim new religious movement)

Sova Center (01.07.2019) – https://bit.ly/2OK9vGn– We found out in June that the Nevsky District Court of St. Petersburg deemed the book Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (Moscow, 2015) prohibited for distribution in Russia. The decision was made in late May upon request from the City Prosecutor’s Office. This book has been distributed by the followers of the Falun Gong spiritual practice (its authorship belongs to the Epoch Times media project). The court relied on the expert opinion, which stated that the anthology contained psychological signs of incitement of hostility “against the Communist Party” and statements “aimed at inciting social enmity against followers of the Chinese Communist Party and communism in general.” In our opinion, the ban against Nine Commentaries on the Communist Partylacks legal justification, despite the sharp criticism of the CCP’s activity contained in the book. No particular political party (especially a foreign one) and no particular ideology is entitled to protection from criticism. The authors of the book stay within the framework of historical and political discussion, do not allow any manifestations of ethnic xenophobia, do not advocate violence, and, on the contrary, emphasize the importance of a “non-violent transition to a society liberated from the CCP.” We believe that the decision of the Yekaterinburg court, which had previously declined the prosecutorial request to ban the book for inciting hatred toward the Chinese supporters of the CCP, was appropriate, while the decision of the St. Petersburg court constitutes excessive interference with freedom of expression.

The Sovetsky District Court of Kazan in mid-June sentenced five residents of the republic, having found them guilty of continuing the activities of the banned Faizrakhmanist community. Depending on their respective roles, they were found guilty of committing crimes under Parts 1 and 2 of Criminal Code Article 282.2 (organizing activity of an extremist organization or participating in it), Part 1.1 of Article 282.2 (involvement of others in activities of an extremist organization), or Part 1 of Article 282.3 (financing activity of an extremist organization). As the spiritual leader of the community, 52-year-old Gumar Ganiev was sentenced to seven years in prison to be served in a minimum-secutity penal colony; 58-year-old Talgat Gizatullin and 41-year-old Rustam Galiev were sentenced to five years, 58-year-old Glimyan Khazetdinov to six years, and 61-year-old Mudaris Ibragimov – to five and a half years in a penal colony. The Faizrakhmanist community founded by former deputy Mufti of Tatarstan Faizrakhman Sattarov, was recognized as an extremist organization in 2013 after the relevant agencies found out that its members were leading an isolated way of life and did not seek help from medical institutions or send their children to schools. Such organizational features are not subject to anti-extremist legal regulation. As far as we know, the community led an insulated but not aggressive way of life; therefore the decision to recognize it as extremist was, in our opinion, inappropriate. Accordingly, we consider the sentences to the Sattarov’s followers inappropriate as well.




RUSSIA: Dvorkin, FECRIS vice-president, attacks Hinduism and Hindu Master Prakas Ji

– Alexander Dvorkin, a notorious anti-cult activist in Russia and vice-president of the France-based anti-cult umbrella organization FECRIS, will demonstrate this week in Moscow to ask for the deportation back to India of Sri Prakash, a respected Indian master who has been living in Russia for 29 years.

 – Dr Massimo Introvigne, the managing director of CESNUR (Centre for Studies on New Religious Movements), visited their ashram in Vilnius, read their books, and found them a typical Hindu movement unfairly harassed by Dvorkin.

Under the following statement titled “Another Minority Religion Under Threat in Russia: Who Is Afraid of Sri Prakash?”, a dozen organizations have already put their signature to protest Dvorkin’s repeated hate speech targeting this religion but more support is expected.

“The situation of religious minorities in Russia has been a cause of serious concerns for several years. While Russia hosts high-level academic institutes and tolerant intellectuals, it is also home to radicals who believe that the Russian Orthodox tradition should be defended by cracking down on minority religions.

Notorious in this respect has been, again for years, one Alexander Dvorkin, who heads an “anti-cult” center in Moscow and co-operates with international anti-cultists under the aegis of an organization known as FECRIS. Although rarely taken seriously abroad, Mr. Dvorkin has shown that he can be a real danger for religious minorities in Russia, unleashing against them friends in the media and in otherwise respectable institutions.

One of the obsessions of Mr. Dvorkin is Hinduism. He never really recovered from the international ridicule that targeted him in 2012 after he supported a ban against the ISKCON edition of the Bhagavad Gitaas an “extremist book.” He believes that, through meditation and ritual, Hindu masters can “hypnotize” or “brainwash” unsuspecting Christian followers and turn them into Hindus overnight. Scholars of religion and Western courts of law have dismissed brainwashing theories as pseudoscience long ago.

A main target of Mr Dvorkin is the Hindu master Sri Prakash Ji, who has been living in Russia since 1990 and has a sizable Russian following, as well as disciples in several other countries. What particularly upsets Mr. Dvorkin is that Sri Prakash dared challenging his anti-cult center in a Russian court, obtaining on December 10, 2018 a declaration that some statements were indeed defamatory. Even more unacceptable in Mr. Dvorkin’s eyes are Sri Prakash’s projects for building a Hindu temple in Moscow.

Mr. Dvorkin has now started again a media campaign against Sri Prakash and his alleged “hypnotic” practices, calling from his deportation from Russia, a country where he and his family have been peacefully living for 29 years.

We fully understand that Mr. Dvorkin’s activities do not represent or express the voice of the majority of the Russian people and of the faithful members of the Russian Orthodox Church. They know that their tradition and identity are not well served by bigoted anti-minorities, anti-Hindu and anti-Indian attitudes. It is for this reason that the most respected Russian institutions should urgently clarify that they are not on the same side of Mr. Dvorkin on the Sri Prakash issue.”

July 23, 2019

CAP-LC Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience

CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions

EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom

Fedinsieme

FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief

FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers

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

ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees

Osservatorio sul Pluralismo Religioso

Soteria International

Asociación por la Defensa de la Tolerancia y los Derechos Humanos