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PAKISTAN: Conference told Pakistan blasphemy laws ‘equated to ethnic cleansing’

Conference told Pakistan blasphemy laws ‘equated to ethnic cleansing’

 

 

EU Reporter (29.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3lb6Hk1 – A conference on Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws was told that the legislation has been equated to ethnic cleansing. The blasphemy laws, while purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority of Pakistan, are “vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and the judiciary”. As such they permit, even invite, abuse and the harassment and persecution of minorities in Pakistan, the event at Brussels press club was told.

 

But, despite such concerns, the European Union is “failing to help” victims and pressure must be put on Pakistan to repeal its laws. The conference on Pakistan’s highly controversial and widely condemned blasphemy laws, took place under the auspices of the Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés.

The legal basis of the blasphemy law, the use of the laws to justify ethnic cleansing and the particular effects on females were all discussed. Opening the debate, Paulo Casada, a former MEP, founder and executive director of the South Asia Democratic Forum, said: “This is a very important topic and one we have been dealing with for a long time. People are being accused of blasphemy without any foundation at all. This results from attacks on lawyers and the quite fanatical and absurd atmosphere in the country.

“The EU needs to do more to highlight this issue which has got worse, not better.”

Jürgen Klute, former MEP and a Christian theologian, said: “I think Christianity and Islam have a lot in common: the belief that you have to appear in front of divine judgement at the end of your time so we must strongly argue against these blasphemy laws. How can a human being decide or estimate what a blasphemy is? You have to leave such decisions to your God. We can argue against these laws on human rights grounds and also religious grounds.”

Manel Msalmi, international affairs Advisor of MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party in the European Parliament, said: “The parliament and significantly the commission and council have each condemned persecution in Pakistan.Hundreds have been charged under these laws which seek to limit speech which could be seen as offensive. These laws have always been a problem but the situation has got worse. It is important to note that such laws are being used against religious minorities in states like Pakistan. Such attacks are also common online particularly against journalists. Pakistan has even called for the introduction of such laws in other Muslim countries with a boycott of states where blasphemy happens. This practice goes hand in hand with targeting religious groups. Human rights are being abused in Pakistan.”

Another keynote speaker, Willy Fautré, director, Human Rights Without Frontiers, thanked the organizers for highlighting the issue. He focused be on the case of a Christian couple imprisoned since 2013 on blasphemy charges before being declared innocent by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and released a few months ago. Despite a resolution of the European Parliament in April focusing on their case, no EU country is ready to grant them political asylum.

He said that in the HRWF database of FORB prisoners, “we have documented 47 cases of believers of all faiths in Pakistan who are in jail on the basis of the blasphemy laws.” These include 26 Christians, 15 Sunni Muslims, 5 Ahmadis and 1 Shia Muslim. Fautre added: “There are certainly more.”

Some 16 have been sentenced to death, 16 have been sentenced to life imprisonment, 10 have been in prison for years and are still waiting for trial and in four cases the status of the prisoner is unknown. The case of Asia Bibi who was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 and was finally acquitted for lack of evidence by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after spending many years on the death row is well known. When she was released, she went into hiding to avoid being killed by extremist groups.

She tried to apply for asylum in France and to other EU member states but to no avail. She was finally welcome in Canada. Fautre said: “I would like here to focus on this point.”

On 29 April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on blasphemy laws in Pakistan, in particular the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, saying in its very first point:“Whereas Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, a Christian couple, were imprisoned in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014 for blasphemy; whereas they have been accused of sending “blasphemous” text messages to a mosque cleric insulting the Prophet Muhammad, using a sim card registered in Shagufta’s name; whereas both the accused have consistently denied all allegations and believe that her National identity card was purposely misused.”

The European Parliament said it “strongly condemns the imprisonment and sentencing of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, as well as the continued delay of their appeal hearing; calls on the Pakistani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them, and to provide them and their lawyer adequate security now and upon release; calls on the Lahore High Court to hold the appeal hearing without delay and to strike down the verdict in accordance with human rights”.

Some 681 MEPs voted in favour of the resolution and only three MEPs opposed it. Fautre added: “The Christian couple was finally released after spending 8 years in prison. They live in hiding for their security.They would now like to find a safe haven in an EU member state but they have not received any proposal from them and their applications for a visa through various European embassies have mostly remained unanswered or have been turned down because they are in hiding for their safety, they have no job and no proof of income. The diplomatic missions have not proposed them an alternative process to get aslum.”

He told the conference: “Up to now, Germany was the only embassy to officially answer Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel but they said they could not be of any assistance. This possibility is narrowly limited to exceptional cases that are of particular exemplary political significance, for example, persons who have been active in human rights or opposition work in a particularly outstanding and long-standing manner and are thus directly exposed to a massive threat to their physical integrity and can sustainably avoid such a threat solely by being admitted to Germany.

“The only way to ask for political asylum would be to illegally cross several borders and arrive in an EU country where they could apply for asylum. They do not envisage such a dangerous solution.

“Again, in this case, EU member states are failing to concretely help persecuted Christians looking for a safe haven and turn a deaf ear to their requests. They are neither proactive nor reactive. Their obstacle race which started in 2013 in Pakistan is far from over.

“General Pervez Musharraf succeeded Zia with the support of the US and its allies. Musharraf not only failed to bring change in the country’s blasphemy laws, he also allowed extremist groups to continue working under new names.”

Photo : eureporter.co

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website





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251 Ukrainian citizens detained in separatist Donbass regions

There are 251 Ukrainian citizens held captive in the separatist regions of Donbass, according to the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Lyudmila Denisova, writes Willy Fautré of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).

 

EU Reporter (14.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3mpzu1c – During a meeting with Melinda Simmons, the British Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine, Denisova announced: “It is still impossible to monitor the observance of their rights and conditions in places of detention.”

 

Denisova petitioned the Ambassador to contact the International Committee of the Red Cross to strengthen their efforts to get access to the Ukrainian detainees in the Donbass regions outside the control of the Kiyv government.

 

Additionally, she asked Melinda Simmons to ask the representatives of her country to support the UN General Assembly resolution “The human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine” during the 16 December vote and to request the immediate release of all Kremlin prisoners.

 

The priority for Commissioner Denisova is to pressure the Russian Federation to abide by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which Moscow is a party. This convention provides Ukrainian officials such as The Verkhovna Rada’s Commissioner for Human Rights, the possibility of visiting all Ukrainian citizens, including political prisoners in the temporarily occupied Crimea and the Russian Federation.

 

On 7 December, Ambassador Silvio Gonzato, Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, made a statement on behalf of the EU and its Member States at the 75th United Nations General Assembly ruling on the resolution on the Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov [Item 34 a) – Prevention of armed conflict].

 

He was notably quoted as saying: “The EU does not and will not recognise the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation. The European Union remains steadfast in its commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.” And he urged: “The Russian Federation to ensure safe, secure, unconditional and unimpeded access of all international monitoring mechanisms, including the OSCE SMM, to the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.”

 

HRWF Comment:

 

HRWF is aware that several terminologies are used in Ukraine and international institutions such as the OSCE to qualify the status of the Donbass areas that are out of control of the Kiyv government. The choice of HRWF was determined by the most used one by the media, think tanks and NGOs in Western Europe.

Photo: EU Reporter.





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Fascism and anti-#Serb sentiments in #Croatia

EU Reporter (11.05.2020) – https://bit.ly/3bkcuuV – On 1 May 2020, Croatia’s president Zoran Milanovic left a state ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of the reconquest of territories held by rebel Serbs for four years in protest of a Nazi-era salute – writes Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

The president’s reaction was prompted by a war veteran who was wearing the emblem ‘For the homeland ready’ (Za Dom Spremni) used by the Ustashi fascists during WWII. Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazi-aligned Ustasha murdered tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma. They were known for their particularly brutal and sadistic methods of execution. Despite the connotation of the event, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković decided to stay, which demonstrated the challenges for politicians and society alike when confronted with the fascist past of the country.

The EU is currently developing a policy to support the gradual integration of the Western Balkans, including the accession of Serbia, but at the same time anti-Serb sentiments continue to increase in Croatia.

Dalmatia, a well-known touristic region along the Adriatic Sea, is one area where many Serbs do not feel at home.

An investigation with local Serbs that was carried out by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) about the situation in Zadar, the main city of Dalmatia after Split, is particularly enlightening. Since 1990, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a ruling party in Croatia and a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) at the European Parliament, has continuously held the post of mayor of Zadar.

In 2008, Mayor Živko Kolega refused to lay a wreath at a monument for anti-fascists who died during WWII. Anti-fascists in Zadar objected, insisting that local and national authorities were not doing enough to combat the neo-Ustasha ideology. Anti-Serb hostility is a by-product of this fascist political agenda.

One example of how a political ideology has translated into hardship for individuals is the discrimination that Dalibor Močević faced. Močević is a Croatian citizen of Serbian descent who spoke to HRWF about the challenges he faced in receiving fair treatment by various administrations and the judiciary of Zadar.

From his birth in 1972 until 1994, Močević lived in an apartment in Zadar that belonged to his father. In 1992, his father died as a victim of the war in Bosnia after being placed in a sanatorium.

In 1993, Močević, who was employed by a merchant shipping company, returned from a one-year trip on foreign seas. He discovered that his house, which jointly belonged to him and his elderly mother, had been confiscated by the authorities and given to Croatian refugees who had been displaced by the war. After 15 years of judicial proceedings and conflicting decisions from the Zadar Municipal Court and Zadar County Court, Močević was deprived of his property rights. In 2010, he appealed this decision at the Supreme Court and then at the Constitutional Court, but to no avail.

In 2009, his mother died under suspicious circumstances. Močević requested access to a number of medical reports from the General Hospital in Zadar, which he is entitled by law, but his request was denied. He filed a complaint against the Ministry of Health but received no reply. Močević sent another complaint to the County Prosecutors Office in Zadar requesting an investigation based on his suspicions, but no criminal investigation was ever initiated.

Additionally, the second husband of his late mother, A. Radetić, who was friendly with some politicians that had dubious pasts, illegally took Močević’s inheritance. In 2017, the Constitutional Court rejected Močević’s complaint. Močević felt discriminated against because of the general anti-Serbian hostility that has persisted since the collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 2 May 1991, during one of the many clashes between Croats and Serbs, Radetić’s uncle was part of a Croatian mob that ransacked over a hundred shops of Serbian companies and businesses and destroyed hundreds of Serb houses in Zadar. The police passively watched these violent incidents without interfering.
In another case concerning his divorce, Močević was denied custody of his young son despite the fact that he had been taken from his ex-wife by the local Center for Social Welfare because of her persistent alcoholism and psychiatric problems.

Močević asserts that he was repeatedly denied justice in these instances because of his Serb origin. His lawyer shares the view that Serbs in Croatia are discriminated against due to various personal or institutional collusions between a number of judges, political figures and extreme nationalists.

The President of Croatia did well to withdraw from a ceremony that had some fascist connotations, but there is still a long way to go before anti-Serb sentiments are eradicated entirely. The wars between 1991 to 2001 which led to the breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the current frontiers between newly established states left wounds at individual, societal and institutional levels. These urgently need to be healed for the wellbeing of all Croatian citizens and so as to allow successful integration of the seven Western Balkan states into the EU.

Willy Fautré is director of Human Rights Without Frontiers





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SOUTH KOREA: The Coronavirus and the Shincheonji Church: A White Paper

EU Reporter (24.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2WPcBv7The whole world is currently facing a coronavirus pandemic that originated in China and quickly expanded to South Korea where a church was demonized for allegedly spreading the virus throughout the country, writes Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

 

In the international media cacophony that has been raging for a couple of months on this issue, there is a lot of fiction and fake news about it. A 30-page White Paper has just been published in five languages by a prominent scholar in religious studies, human rights activists, a reporter and a lawyer who have researched this phenomenon in South Korea. Distinguishing fact from fiction was their sole objective. After a thorough investigation, they have de-constructed about 20 biased and false stories, among many others, to which they have opposed facts. Here are some of these debunked fake news circulated in South Korea:

 

Fiction: The so-called Patient 31 identified as a Shincheonji member from Daegu has been accused of refusing to be tested twice because of her religious beliefs, of attacking a nurse and of hereby infecting many other coreligionists.

 

Fact: On 7 February, she was admitted to Saeronan Korean Medicine Hospital for a minor car accident and developed a cold that, she says, was attributed to an open window in the hospital. She insists that nobody mentioned coronavirus as a possibility to her, nor suggested a test. Only the following week, after her symptoms worsened, she was diagnosed with pneumonia, and then tested for COVID-19. That, when quarantined, she started screaming and assaulted the nurse in charge in the hospital, was reported by some news but denied by both her and the nurse.

 

Fiction: Shincheonji has been accused of teaching its members to rely on the sole protection of God and to reject any medical treatment.

 

Fact: Shincheonji does not teach its members that they are immune from sickness and should reject medical treatment when it is needed. On the contrary, its message to its members has been to follow the instructions of health officials and political authorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is also not true that Shincheonji’s religious services are uniquely unhygienic because participants sit on the floor rather than on chairs or benches; in fact, this is common in many religions, such as Buddhism or Islam.

 

Fiction: Shincheonji was accused of not being concerned about the epidemic and of delaying the closure of its religious services.

 

Fact: On 25 January 2020, and again on 28 January, Shincheonji’s leadership issued orders that no Shincheonji members who had recently arrived from China could attend church services. Moreover, the same day that the patient was tested positive, Shincheonji suspended all activities in its churches and mission centers, first in Daegu and within a few hours throughout South Korea.

 

Fiction: Shincheonji was accused of dragging its feet when the authorities asked for the list of all their church members. It was also reproached that it delayed the compilation and submission of this list, and that it was intentionally incomplete.

 

Fact: There is no such evidence that Shincheonji deliberately tried to hamper the authorities’ efforts. Shincheonji has more than 120,000 members and so it took time to collect such information. Shincheonji complied as quickly as it could. The Catholic Church or Protestant Churches might have been unable to provide such information or might have refused on privacy grounds. Unfortunately, after Shincheonji submitted this list, the identities of a number of its members were leaked to the public. This had catastrophic consequences for many of them, such as public stigmatisation and job loss.

 

The question is: Why is there an anti-Shincheonji campaign in South Korea and who is behind it?

 

The fictious stories and biased news have primarily been created and circulated by fundamentalist Protestant Churches that use them to call for the banning of Shincheonji. For years, they have been vainly fighting against Shincheonji under their crusade against theological heresies, but in reality, Shincheonji is targeted because it is a fast growing movement that threatens their membership. Those fundamentalist churches are conservative and anti-liberal, and represent a powerful majority in South Korea. They organise rallies and occasionally resort to violence against groups they label as “cults,” LGBTQI people, and Muslim refugees seeking asylum in Korea. They consider Islam to be a demonic religion that is inherently inclined to terrorism.

 

On 6 February 2020, the U.S Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government entity, issued a declaration stating: “USCIRF is concerned by reports that Shincheonji church members have been blamed for the spread of #coronavirus. We urge the South Korean government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak.”

 

The authors of the White Paper second this conclusion and appeal to the South Korean authorities. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to violate the human rights and religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of believers.

 

Willy Fautré is director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.
Read the white paper here.


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