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QATAR: In the shadow of the Football World Cup, the situation of Christians

In the shadow of the Football World Cup, a forgotten issue: the situation of Christians

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

The European Times NewsThe European Times (08.12.2022) – https://bit.ly/3Y620Jc – In the shadow of the Football World Cup in Qatar, voices of non-Muslims have been heard and listened to at the European Parliament at a conference organized on 6 December by Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen under the title “Qatar: Addressing the limitations of religious freedom for Bahá’ís and Christians.”

This initiative of MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen, a member of the EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief, was a followup of the resolution of the European Parliament on the “Situation of human rights in the context of the FIFA football world cup in Qatar” adopted on 24 November last plenary session. On that occasion, the Parliament called “on the Qatari authorities to ensure respect for the human rights of all persons attending the 2022 World Cup, including international guests and those living in the country, including for their freedom of religion and belief.”

The situation of the Christian community was addressed by Anastasia Hartman from Open Doors. Here is a large excerpt of her intervention:

“When we speak about Qatar, there are two distinct groups of Christian believers in the country and, consequently, two sets of challenges and limitations of religious freedom.

First, the indigenous Qataris, converts from Islam to Christianity, who find it, if not impossible, extremely difficult to practice their faith as they may face prosecution, oftentimes marginalization and pressure from society and family due to their conversion.

Apostasy and blasphemy, criminal offences punishable by law

Ninety percent of Qataris are Sunni Muslims. According to Qatar’s interpretation and application of Sharia law, apostasy is a criminal offence punishable by death. The Penal Code also mentions as criminal offences “misinterpreting” the Quran, offending Islam or insulting any of the prophets.

It follows that Muslims in Qatar do not enjoy their inherent right and liberty to change their religion or belief, which is an important component of freedom of religion as enshrined in Art 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a binding treaty to which Qatar is a signatory. By its nature, in no circumstances, including laws, can this inherent right to change one’s religion be justifiably violated or broken.

But it is not only about the written law. Due to the huge influence of tribalism in the Qatari society, conversion from Islam is also seen as betraying one’s family and family’s honor.

Converts from Islam to Christianity and other religions are forced to hide their faith and keep their meetings secret to avoid dire consequences of either being prosecuted or suffer social stigma, police monitoring or intimidation.

Christian migrant workers, freedom of association and freedom of assembly

In Qatar, there is also a growing expatriate community of Christian believers (consisting primarily of foreign migrant workers), towards whom Qatar has been relatively lenient and has even provided land to build churches.

Expatriate Christians are permitted to worship within the confines of the Religious Complex located on government-owned land provided their community is registered but only nine Christian denominations have gained registration.

The Mesaymeer Religious Compound created by the father of the current Emir was a gesture by the Qatari government to promote interreligious dialogue and we note with praise that such a step was made.

There are, however, certain issues. First, this complex is strictly monitored, there are ID checks at the entrance and no Muslim background visitor can enter its premises and therefore attend non-Muslim worship. Second, the complex is too small to accommodate Qatar’s growing non-Muslim expatriate community.

At Open Doors, we know of about 100 Evangelical communities that used to gather in villas in pre-pandemic times but were “temporarily” closed by the government due to COVID-19 restrictions. They are still awaiting permission to reopen even though mosques and other establishments have been allowed to operate and the World Cup is hosting huge crowds of visitors from all over the world.

Unregistered religious groups are restricted from lawfully worshiping in private spaces. They have ended up in a registration limbo. It is extremely difficult to officially establish new communities or use non-designated buildings like hotels or event halls for religious gatherings.

We genuinely ask the Qatari government what they need to allow people to worship in other places?”


In her conclusions, Anastasia Hartman insisted on the need for a constructive dialogue with the Qatari authorities and prioritized a number of issues that should be advocated, such as:

– First, taking into account the limited capacity of the Religious Complex in Doha, to ask the Qatari government to grant freedom of worship to Christian communities, whether they are registered or not, and to permit free access to all Qataris and expats to Christian places of worship.

– Second, to ask the Qatari authorities to develop initiatives at the local level for educating the wider population on the value of religious tolerance and inter-religious harmony.

On the same lines, she called upon the EU to address its human rights concerns, including religious freedom, to Qatar through its diplomatic and political channels, to use all the opportunities for a meaningful engagement, an open and constructive dialogue.

She also recommended that MEPs ask written questions to the Commission and meet with Qatar’s ambassadors in their respective countries.

Conclusion of MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen

MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen concluded the event by saying “It was very impressive to hear the personal testimonies of church leaders that were expelled by Qatar for not hiding their Christian and Baha’i faith. This strengthens my belief that the EU should step up its activities for freedom of belief, also in Qatar. As EU member states do a lot of business with Qatar, the EU should not close its eyes for the lack of freedom for Christians and other non-Muslim religions. The EU should start a constructive dialogue with Qatar: anyone should be free to practice his religion and to express his beliefs.”


Photo 1: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen chairing the conference on religious freedom in Qatar (Open Doors)

Photo 2 : MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen

Further reading about FORB in Qatar on HRWF website

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WORLD : Apostasy & death penalty: 29 NGOs against death penalty

Apostasy & death penalty: Over 90 NGOs and individuals against death penalty

Jubilee Campaign (10.10.2022) – Website – On 10th October 2022, over 90 individuals and organisations have signed a Charter calling on countries which continue mandate the death penalty for non-violent conduct, including apostasy and blasphemy, to repeal such laws. Apostasy and blasphemy laws violate core tenets of freedom of religion and belief and expression.

Apostasy and blasphemy laws not only have a chilling effect on a plethora of human rights but place individuals accused under threat of torture from state and non-state actors. This was brought up during the Human Rights Council in a statement delivered by Yemeni Christian convert – Musheer – the first oral statement from a Christian Yemeni. Yemen is one of the 11 countries where leaving the state interpretation of Islam can lead to the death penalty.  The UN experts on torture and extrajudicial killings released a statement on the link between the death penalty and torture.

The total number of countries with the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy has reduced since the Monash University released its report Killing in the Name of God: State-Sanctioned Violations of Religious Freedom on year ago. Since the Charter was signed on, the United Arab Emirates, dropped the death penalty for apostasy, bringing the at least 12 countries which maintain the death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy down to 11.

The Charter in addition to condemning the continued sanction of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy, also calls on states to take a concrete action and support specific language calling for the repeal of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy in two respective resolutions the moratorium on the death penalty and extrajudicial executions. 

The initial release of the Charter on 22 August 2022, International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, was followed up by the a multi-faith and multi-disciplinary delegation of members of the International Religious Freedom Summit Global Campaign to Repeal Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws visiting UN Permanent Missions in New York in mid-September. The coalition included lawyer Kola Alapinni from Nigeria who serves as the legal counsel for Yahaya Sharif-Aminu – a Sufi singer Nigerian authorities sentenced to death. They are now calling on the remaining states which are mostly Muslim-majority to: ” separate the punitive Islamic Laws from Islam,” Soraya M. Deen MA.


Coptic Solidarity

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

Council of Ex-Muslims of Sri Lanka

Eglise Protestante d’Algérie

Eleos Justice

European Office Church of Scientology for Public Affairs and Human Rights

Ex-Muslims of India

Ex-Muslims of North America

Ex-Muslims of Toronto

Faithless Hijabi

Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe

Foundation for Religious Freedom

Fundacion para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad

Genocide Watch

Humanists Association of Sri Lanka

Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust

International Christian Concern

International Human Rights Committee

International Institute for Religious Freedom

International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief Steering Group

International Religious Liberty Association

Jubilee Campaign Netherlands

Jubilee Campaign USA

LEAH Foundation

Lumières Sans Frontières

M.A.L.I. Morocco

Minority Concern

Muslims for Progressive Values

Muslim Women Speakers


Prayer Pioneers

Rumi Forum

Secular Coalition for America

Set My People Free

Society for Humanistic Judaism

Tahrir Alnisa Foundation

The Clergy Project

Voice for Justice

Widows and Orphans

World Evangelical Alliance


(Formerly) from parliaments:

Baroness Caroline Cox – Founder, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust; Independent Member, United Kingdom House of Lords

Ján Figel – Former European Union Commissioner; Former European Union Freedom of Religion or Belief Special Envoy; Member, International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance Council of Experts

Farahnaz Ispahani – Former Pakistan Parliamentarian; Senior Fellow, Religious Freedom Institute

Abid Raja – Member of Parliament, Norway

Joël Voordewind – Former Member, House of Representatives of the Netherlands


Other signatories are academics, journalists, lawyers, faith leaders, human rights advocates, civil society members.

Further reading about FORB in the World on HRWF website

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INDONESIA: Clerical body ‘sorry’ for false apostasy claims

Clerical body ‘sorry’ for false apostasy claims

North Sumatra branch of Ulema Council sparks row after official said conversions were rampant in local district

By Katharina R. Lestari


UCA News (17.05.2022)- https://bit.ly/3Pv35Gn – A provincial branch of Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical body was forced to apologize on May 17 after coming under fire from local authorities and Christians for indirectly accusing religious minorities of apostasy.

The row began several days earlier when the North Sumatra branch of the Ulema Council claimed that a district in the province had a very alarming rate of apostasy cases.

Muhammad Hatta, who heads the council’s local religious propagation desk, said over the weekend that he was informed about a large number of Muslims abandoning their faith in Langkat district.

Despite a lack of concrete data confirming this, he claimed that “it was very alarming.”

According to him, there were attempts to convert local Muslims to other faiths through marriage and other methods.

“Sometimes a couple professing Islam and another religion get married the Islamic way but after the Muslim is forced to adhere to his or her partner’s religion,” Indonesian language news portal detick.com quoted him as saying.

He pointed to a case in which a 30-year-old Muslim woman was allegedly forced to convert to Christianity after marrying a Protestant man in the district.

However, his claims were fiercely denied by a local official and a Catholic Church leader.

The acting district head, Syah Afandin, acknowledged a Muslim woman had converted to Christianity but asserted that “she was the only one” and “there are no attempts at organized apostasy.”

He said Hatta’s remarks were very inflammatory, “because what really happened was that the Muslim woman dated the Christian man, left her parent’s home for six months to be with him, converted to Christianity, and was married to him by a Protestant pastor.”

He also said the Muslim woman’s parents had filed a police report which was rejected as they had no authority to deal with the case.

Speaking with UCA News on May 17, Reverend Ahmad Sajli DK Pinem, general secretary of the North Sumatra chapter of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, criticized the said the local Ulema council claim was blown out of proportion.

Commenting on the conversion of the Muslim woman he said: “Conversion is a personal affair. It has nothing to do with others.”

He said the woman’s family might be disappointed with her decision. “Or perhaps they want something else. I do not know.”

He also called on Christians in the district not to be provoked by the Ulema Council’s claim about large-scale conversions he said.

The North Sumatra chapter of the MUI finally issued a clarification on May 17 following the criticisms.

Its chairman, Zulkifli Ahmad Dian, apologized for the confusion and said the district had in fact recorded no mass apostasy attempts.

Photo: An official at the North Sumatra branch of Indonesia’s Ulema Council claimed many Muslims were being converted to other religions through marriage. (Unsplash)

Further reading about FORB in Indonesia on HRWF website

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