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RUSSIA: Draft bill proposes a sharp increase of fines against LGBTQI people

Draft bill proposes a sharp increase of fines against LGBTQI people

Draft bill stipulating fines up to 10 mln rubles for propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations submitted to State Duma

Interfax (07.06.2022) – https://bit.ly/3xv7oud – A bill introducing administrative penalties for propagating non-traditional sexual relations in Russia and increasing current fines for such offenses with regard to minors was submitted to the State Duma on Tuesday.

The legislative assembly of Sevastopol introduced the relevant draft document to the lower house of the Russian parliament.

The authors of the bill propose adding a new article to the Administrative Offenses Code of the Russian Federation. This new provision deals with “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations in the form of disseminating information aimed at forming non-traditional sexual mindsets, making non-traditional sexual relations more attractive, promoting a distorted vision of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or imposing such information about non-traditional sexual relations that sparks interest in such relations – unless such actions constitute a criminal offense.”

According to their legislative initiative, offenders will face administrative fines ranging from 40,000 – 50,000 rubles (currently 4,000 – 5,000 rubles) if they are individuals, 100,000 – 500,000 rubles (currently 40,000 – 50,000 rubles) if they are officials, and one million to five million rubles (currently 800,000 – one million rubles) if they are legal entities.

If such actions take place among minors, relevant administrative fines would be from 50,000 – 100,000 rubles (currently 4,000 – 5,000 rubles) for individuals, up to 500,000 rubles (currently 40,000 – 50,000 rubles) for officials, and up to five million rubles (currently 800,000 – one million rubles) for legal entities.

If such offenses are committed using mass media or the Internet, the bill suggests that administrative fines from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles be imposed on individuals, from 500,000 to one million rubles on officials, and up to ten million rubles on legal entities.

If a foreign citizen or stateless person commits such offenses, they will face an administrative fine of 40,000 – 100,000 rubles and an administrative deportation from the Russian Federation or up to 15 days of administrative arrest followed by administrative deportation.

The same actions committed by a foreigner or stateless person with any involvement of mass media or using the Internet will carry an administrative fine ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles with administrative deportation from Russia or up to 15 days of administrative arrest followed by deportation.

The authors of the draft legislation explain in a memo that no provision of the bill “implies any interference in the sphere of individual autonomy, including sexual self-determination of a person, or is intended to ban or officially condemn non-traditional sexual relations, or restricts any impartial public discussion about the legal status of sexual minorities or precludes any representatives of those from expressing their stances on these issues by any means permissible under the law or defending their rights and legitimate interests.”

 

Photo credits: Wikimediea





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TURKEY: Protestants exposed to discrimination, deportation and hate speech

Protestants exposed to discrimination, deportation and hate speech

By Uzay Bulut

 

Providence Mag (16.05.2022) – https://bit.ly/3wzUA49 – Only 0.1 percent of Turkey’s population is Greek, Armenian, or Assyrian Christian. The collapse of Turkey’s Christian communities is a result of decades-long persecution that includes genocideexpulsionspogroms, and official discrimination.

There is also a growing Christian demographic group in the country: Turkish converts to Christianity, many of whom converted to a Protestant church. This community has struggled with many problems, including a lack of official recognition by the government.

The “2021 Protestant Community Rights Violation Report” by Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches lists the community’s challenges. According to the report, Protestant Christians in Turkey lack legal recognition as a church and a faith community, which severely restricts their freedom of religion and belief. They are often exposed to hate speech in the press or social media. Since they don’t have an official legal entity, they remain unable to establish their own places of worship or use existing church buildings for services. Thus, they try to use other buildings, which brings other problems with it. They also cannot open schools to train their religious personnel. Whenever foreign religious workers come to Turkey to serve the Protestant community, they face the risk of deportation.

As Protestant Christians cannot worship within their own churches, they try establishing associations or religious foundations or become a representative of other such groups. However, the government does not officially accept them as a “church” or a “place of worship.” The report explains:

Because members of the Protestant community are mostly new Christians, they do not have religious buildings that are part of their cultural and religious heritage like traditional Christian communities have in Turkey. The usable number of historical church buildings is very limited. Therefore, a large portion of the Protestant community tries to overcome the problem of finding a place to worship by establishing an association or religious foundation,or by gaining representative status with an existing association or religious foundation and then renting or purchasing a property such as a standalone building, shop or depot that has not traditionally been used for worship. A very small number have been able to build their own free-standing buildings. However, many of these premises do not have official status as a place of worship and therefore they are not officially recognized as a place of worship even though they are used that way. They cannot benefit from the advantages, or the conveniences given to an officially recognized place of worship, such as free electricity and water, as well as tax exempt status. When they introduce themselves to the authorities as a church, they receive warnings that they are not legal and may be closed down.

 

The inability to possess legal places of worship created serious challenges for the Protestant community during the past year. Some examples include:

  • The church building that is part of the Diyarbakır Armenian Protestant Church Foundation, which was turned over to the General Directorate of Foundations (despite objections and the need for a church worship place in Diyarbakir) was rented out to the Culture Ministry as a library on February 21, 2021.
  • Tekirdag Protestant Fellowship started activities as part of an association in July 2021. Even though they did not bother those around them, neighbors and others filed complaints to the municipality, the governor’s office, and the office of the president. As a result, the government is continually bothering the church, conducting inspections, and pressuring it to move from that region.
  • The members of the Protestant community who live in Arhavi in Artvin Province have rented a property and want to do repairs and renovations. The repairmen who took on this job could not work due to social pressure; the landlord terminated the rental contract for the same reason. The congregation continues to meet in members’ homes.

In addition, the Protestant community does not have the right to train its own religious personnel within the Turkish national education system. It also cannot open schools to provide religious education for the members of church communities.

Therefore, the Protestant community trains most of its religious personnel through seminars or apprentice training in Turkey. A small percentage obtains education at theology schools abroad. Presently there are not enough Turkish Protestant religious workers or leaders to meet the need of the growing Protestant community, so foreign pastors need to provide the spiritual guidance of some churches.

However, the Turkish government creates challenges regarding that as well. Many foreign religious workers and members of congregations have been deported, banned entry into Turkey, or denied residence visas, a situation beginning intensely in 2019 and continuing in 2021. Some Protestants who have lived in Turkey for years have been given entry bans for at least five years for “posing a general security threat.” The report elaborates:

In court cases opened to challenge this situation, the authorities have claimed that these people are pursuing activities to the detriment of Turkey, have taken part in missionary activities and that some of them have attended our Family Conference, which our Association has held annually for twenty years or other seminars and meetings that are similarly completely legal and transparent.

 

Another significant problem facing the Protestant community is the increase of hate speech in social media. The authors of the report write:

There has been a noticeable increase in hate speech filled with insults and profanity directed at official church accounts, church leaders, Christianity, Christian values and Christians in general originating from the activity of social media groups that cultivate hatred against Christians and have targeted Christian websites and social media accounts.

Social media has become the center of targeting, marginalization, degradation and all kinds of discrimination and has also become the media where corruption of information is the highest. Hate speech easily finds an arena in this platform.

These types of activities [on social media] directed at all Christian denominations and minority groups creates concern in the Protestant community.

 

For instance, Emin T., a church employee, and the Aydin Kurtulus Church itself were threatened with messages posted on Facebook by T.U., who lives in Bursa. The church employee filed a police complaint because the content of the messages included threats to kill Christians by decapitating them or through other means. Various people living in Aydin also posted other menacing messages. One person living in Aydin was arrested but soon released. The church has not received information from the legal authorities regarding any investigation.

The members of Artvin Arhavi Fellowship were subjected to written and digital attacks.  Later “certain people” harassed and pressured the landlord to evict them from his property. The district president of a political party also posted on social media statements such as “we will destroy them.” The leader of the fellowship met with the district president, who then feigned to be more reasonable. But the negative response posted on social media and even openly expressed in the streets continues. The church fellowship leader still hears disdainful words like “dead priest walking” when he strolls outside.

According to the 2021 report, members of the Protestant community, as well as non-Christians who work for Christian organizations, continue to receive offers to become informants. In many cities with Protestant congregations, people claiming to be intelligence officers who made such offers reportedly used threats, promises, benefits, or money to gain information about Christians, churches, church activities, and Christian organizations. People who were offered the role of informant gave this information to members of the Protestant community.

Ali Kalkandelen, the founding pastor of the Eurasia Protestant Communities Foundation and the president of Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches, told Providence:

Protestant Christians have a legal existence problem. Turkish Protestant churches do not have a legal identity in the law. This situation creates many problems about our places of worship, our right to worship, religious workers, burial places, and proper representation in the protocols at government institutions, among others.  

Protestant places of worship are still not legally recognized and accepted in Turkey. All our attempts and efforts for official recognition have been in vain so far. In addition, nearly 70 foreign nationals with their families and approximately 10 Turkish citizens married to foreign nationals have been deported or face deportation on the grounds that they are engaged in missionary work, have founded a church, practice Christianity, or pose a “threat to national security.” While we find these accusations to be completely incomprehensible, malicious, and unacceptable, we also see them as an attempt to weaken the church.

In addition to this, there is a general misperception in society against the Protestant Christians that sees us as traitors, collaborators, sellout Turks, and enemies of religion, nation, and culture.

 

Pastor Kalkandelen says that “deliberate and massive pollution of disinformation in the media” is largely behind this misunderstanding. He elaborated:

Some written and visual media outlets make publications that spread this propaganda. Contents that call us or our places of worship names such as churches under the stairs, shop churches, apartment churches, sold out Turks, collaborators with foreign powers, or Turkish extensions of the crusaders are used by some media as a tool to increase their circulation. Publishing such content and showing our faith and worship in such hateful and untrue fashion is seen as “a national and spiritual value” by some media outlets. This kind of perspective unfortunately finds some approval among the general population. The public sees the Protestant Churches the way the media portrays us to be. As a result, such propaganda targeting and slandering our faith and churches has led to some protests, verbal taunts, the breaking of the signs, glasses, or crosses of our places of worship, and disrespectful writings on our church walls. Moreover, some Christians who have been actively serving in the church for years are still on death lists. State security measures have been taken to protect them.

 

Kalkandelen added:

Our most urgent need is the acceptance of the Protestant churches by Turkey on a legal basis with a sound definition and the provision of their representation rights as a legal entity. We also need the annulment of the court decisions against the Protestants, who are seen as a threat to Turkey’s national security and who have been deported or are about to be deported.

 

Soner Tufan, a member of the Board of the Association of Protestant Churches and its press and public relations officer, told Providence:

Having a legal entity would be a requirement that would meet most of the needs. Since we do not have a legal personality, we cannot build a church building, we cannot go beyond the mandatory religious classes at schools. We cannot create a solution to the issue of raising clergy. The fact that we as Protestant churches are not recognized as Turkish Christians deprives us of these rights.

If you ask municipal and government officials about Protestant Christians, they will say, “Of course, they have rights!” However, despite all our efforts, there is not a single building in Turkey which is registered as a Protestant church in the land registry with a signature of a governor and a district governor, nor a church which has legal personality in the last 20 years.

 

For comparison, there are around 85,000 mosques across Turkey that operate as part of the state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

Meanwhile, Turkey has accelerated its campaign of opening mosques across the world, including in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America.  Yet Turkey, which has a secular constitution, refuses to officially recognize the Protestant community, or to allow them to operate their own churches and freely share their faith with fellow citizens. At the same time, Turkey has converted many historic churches and monasteries into mosques, stables, warehouses, mess halls, ammunition stores, or private houses.

Turkey’s government officials falsely call democratic Western nations that respect religious liberty “Islamophobic,” but their own Christianophobia is seismic in scale.

Photo:Blue Mosque Istanbul cap-voyage.com

 





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South Korea: Covid-19. Why are Shincheonji’s good deeds ignored?

Saving lives by donating plasma: Why are Shincheonji’s good deeds ignored?

Massimo Introvigne, Center for Studies on New Religions
Rosita Šorytė, European Federation for Freedom of Belief

 

Cesnur (05.10.2020) – https://www.cesnur.org/2020/shincheonji-plasma.htm – Eileen Barker, Europe’s most senior scholar of new religions, notes in her entry “New Religious Movements” in the 2020 SAGE Encyclopedia of the Sociology of Religions, that “one does not often see reports of the charitable work in which many of the NRMs engage,” even if it is sometimes “outstanding.” That this happens, is evidence of the phenomenon social scientists call “gatekeeping.” For different reasons, the media filters out news that do not correspond to certain agendas or established stereotypes. New religious movements, derogatorily identified as “cults” are by definition malignant, and cannot do anything good.

There are two ways gatekeeping works in this field. First, charitable deeds performed by new religious movements are ignored, or get much less coverage than their alleged wrongdoings. Second, when their good work is just too visible to be ignored, it is reluctantly reported, but immediately interpreted as motivated by a hidden agenda.

The media often claim that humanitarian activities carried out by new religious movements are “fronts” for public relations, or for converting others under the false pretext of helping. This “paradigm of suspicion” may be criticized on two accounts. First, it is in turn suspicious that critics do not raise these objections when good deeds are performed by the Catholic Church, the Methodists, or other mainline religious organizations. In these cases, it is understood that their good work is done in good faith, out of a sincere desire for a better world, rather than for self-promotion purposes. Only the activities of new religious movements are accused of dissimulating hidden motivations.

A vicious circle is thus created. If new religious movements only spend their time in missionary activities, it is objected that this is typical of “cults,” which devote all their energies to proselytization, while “real” religions help suffering human beings. But, if new religious movements engage in charitable, social, or health activities, it is argued that these are only “fronts” and public relations exercises.

In the case of Shincheonji, one of the largest Korean Christian new religious movements, the “paradigm of suspicion” was constantly used to dismiss and criticize the activities of Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), the humanitarian and peace organization created and led by Shincheonji’s founder, Chairman Lee Man Hee. Although most speakers at international events organized by HWPL, rather than members of Shincheonji, are political and religious leaders with no interest in converting to new religions, opponents maintain that Lee uses HWPL as a proselytization tool, which is demonstrably false. The campaigns HWPL promoted in the field of peace education, cooperating with UN agencies, were non-sectarian and certainly not aimed at proselytization on behalf of Shincheonji, and the same is true for other HWPL campaigns and events.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shincheonji was accused of negligence in cooperating with the authorities after one of its female members in the South Korean city of Daegu, before being diagnosed with the virus, infected directly or indirectly thousands of co-religionists. This set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to the arrest of Chairman Lee and other Shincheonji leaders. As we have argued elsewhere, the reaction by the authorities has been so disproportionate that the suspicion that COVID-19 was used as a pretext to hit a movement unpopular among both fundamentalist Protestants, an important electoral constituency in South Korea, and the current South Korean political leadership, which is afraid of criticism by Christian churches in general for both its domestic and foreign policy, is difficult to escape.

Late August and September 2020 saw a new and significant development. The plasma of those who have been infected with COVID-19 and have recovered contains naturally formed antibodies and may work as a “natural vaccine,” which would at least lower the risk of death among those hit by the virus. In South Korea, this possibility has been identified and studied early, yet not many donors have been willing to cooperate. On July 12, media reported that, “out of some 12,000 recovered COVID-19 patients who could donate blood for the cause, just 361 have so far shown interest and only 171 had volunteered.”

In March already, Shincheonji had announced that his members who had contracted the virus and had recovered were ready to become plasma donors. At that time, the offer was ignored. In September, however, when plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients was both in high demand and scarce, the availability of Shincheonji members to donate plasma met with gratitude. As of September 6, more than 1,600 Shincheonji members who went through the cycle of infection and recovery had donated their plasma.

This generous availability was mentioned by some domestic and international media, including the BBC, but the number of media reports was low when compared to the hundreds of articles that in March had exposed Shincheonji, quite inaccurately, as a cult of plague-spreaders.

Slowly, however, the story became too newsworthy to be ignored. While very few recovered COVID-19 patients in South Korea had volunteered to donate plasma, those from Shincheonji willing to cooperate where in the thousands and growing. Opponents, thus, mobilized the second tool of gatekeeping. While the Shincheonji plasma donation story was impossible to ignore, critics argued that it was a public relations exercise, and a way to divert attention from the previous alleged non-cooperation with the authorities. It is true that some Korean media changed their attitude after a new wave of COVID-19 cases hit the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, a conservative Evangelical church led by Pastor Jun Kwang-hoon. They confronted the attitudes of Sarang Jeil and Shincheonji, and correctly concluded that the latter had been much more cooperative with the health authorities than the former. Other media, however, continued to dismiss Shincheonji’s plasma donations as propaganda.

This was grossly unfair, and indicative of the critics’ prejudice. As the meager results of previous appeals proved, South Korean citizens (as it happened in other countries) are generally reluctant to donate plasma. Side effects such as fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness may exist. Also, in times of COVID-19 hospitals and health facilities in general are often regarded as dangerous places.

Confronted with this situation, why did so many Shincheonji members who had recovered from COVID-19 volunteer to donate plasma? It is true that we cannot exclude a willingness to publicly state that they are good South Korean citizens, unfairly maligned and depicted as anti-social and sinister by the media and some politicians. But there should be more.

Shincheonji teaches that we live in the times described in the Bible in the Book of Revelation, and will soon enter a glorious Millennium. While God would be able to usher in the Millennium without human help, he prefers to seek our cooperation. Acts of charity and kindness, Shincheonji devotees believe, have cosmic consequences, well beyond the limited mundane aim of improving the image of their religion.

It is for this reason that thousands of them have volunteered for the peace education and other campaigns of HWPL. And it is also for this reason that thousands rush to donate their plasma. One of the negative effects of gatekeeping applied to unpopular millenarian religions is that it leaves out the essential. Those who believe that the Millennium is at hand, and that God asks our cooperation in creating his kingdom, do not need other motivations to perform charitable, humanitarian deeds that benefit society in general, including those who regard the Millennium as a delusion.


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