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IRAN: The persecution of Christians in Iran debated at the European Parliament

IRAN: The persecution of Christians in the world, especially in Iran, highlighted at the European Parliament

By Willy Fautré


The European Times (26.01.2023)- The persecution of Christians in Iran was the focus of the presentation of the 2023 World Watch List of the Protestant NGO Open Doors yesterday, Thursday 25 January, at the European Parliament (EP). According to their report, 360 million Christians around the world suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith, 5621 Christians were murdered and 2110 church buildings were attacked last year.


The event was hosted by MEP Peter Van Dalen and MEP Miriam Lexmann (EPP group).


Peter Van Dalen commented on the damning Open Doors report as follows:

 “It is highly concerning to see that persecution of Christians is still increasing in the world. It is therefore very important that in all its work on human rights, the European Parliament does not overlook the right to freedom or religion or belief! I am grateful for organisations like Open Doors who keep reminding us of the urgency and importance of these matters.”


MEP Nicola Beer (Renew Europe Group), one of the EP Vice-presidents, had a special address focusing on the positive and constructive role of religious communities in democratic societies and consequently the necessity to defend freedom of religion or belief.


Ms Dabrina Bet-Tamraz, a Protestant from the Assyrian ethnic minority in Iran, who is now living in Switzerland, had been invited to testify about the persecution of Christians in Iran, through the example of her own family.

When I was a teenager we were constantly under surveillance; we were bugged and there were spies in the church. We didn’t know who we could trust. We were ready for anyone in the family to be killed at any time as it had happened in many other Christian communities. At school, I was discriminated against by the teachers and the principal. I was stigmatized both as a Christian and as an Assyrian by the other students.

After the Shahrara Assyrian Church of my father was closed in 2009, I was arrested many times to be interrogated about the activities of the members of our church. I was kept in custody with no legal permit, with no female officer present but just in male surroundings, which is stressing for a teenager. I was threatened of being raped.

I now feel safe in Switzerland but when Iranian Ministry of Intelligence officers published an article on social media with my pictures and home address – encouraging Iranian men living in Switzerland to ‘pay me a visit’ – I had to move to another house. Even outside Iran, we remain under threat for our life if we reveal the human rights violations of the regime.”

For many years, Dabrina’s father, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, and her mother, Shamiran Issavi Khabizeh were sharing their faith with Farsi-speaking Muslims, which is forbidden in Iran, and were training converts.

Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was officially recognised as a minister by the Iranian government and led the Shahrara Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Tehran for many years until the Interior Ministry closed it down in March 2009 for holding services in Farsi – it was then the last church in Iran to hold services in the language of the Iranian Muslims. The church was later allowed to reopen under a new leadership, with services conducted in Assyrian only. Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife then moved into house church ministry, hosting meetings in their home.

Dabrina’s parents were arrested in 2014 but were released on bail. In 2016, they were sentenced to ten years in prison. Their appeal hearing was postponed several times until 2020. When it was obvious that the prison term would be maintained, they decided to leave Iran. They now live with their daughter who had fled to Switzerland in 2010.

In the meantime, she had studied Evangelical theology in the UK and she is now a pastor in a German-speaking church in Switzerland. Her campaign for religious freedom in Iran has taken her to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, to the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington DC and to a UN General Assembly, apart from many other events.

At the European Parliament in Brussels, she called on the Iranian authorities to

order the immediate and unconditional release of Christians detained on spurious charges related to the practice of their faith and religious activities; and uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief for every citizen, regardless of their ethnic or linguistic group, including converts from other religions.” 

She asked the international community, including the European Union, to hold Iran accountable for its mistreatment of religious minorities. She urged the Iranian authorities to uphold their obligation to ensure freedom of religion and belief for all their citizens in conformity with the international instruments they have signed and ratified.

MEP Miriam Lexmann, from Slovakia, a former Communist country, pointed at the anti-religious nature of the Marxist ideology imposed on her country for decades after WWII. She made a vibrant plea for freedom of conscience and belief, saying

“Freedom of religion or belief is the corner stone of all human rights. When religious freedom is attacked, all human rights are under threat. Fighting for religious freedom is fighting for all human rights and for democracy. A number of countries such as China, another Communist country, have developed some very sophisticated methods to amputate parts of the religious freedom of their populations. I try to share my concerns with my colleagues of other political groups in the Parliament but for various reasons it is difficult to open their minds.”

MEP Nicola Beer, from Germany, stressed that religious communities play a major role in our democratic countries, contribute to the stability of our societies and provide assistance to the most vulnerable persons through their caritative organizations.

Fighting for freedom of religion or belief contributes to the defence of all human rights but quite often my colleagues at the Parliament forget religious freedom when they prioritize the human rights that should be defended,” she said. “The situation is getting worse and worse around the globe and it is important that people like Dabrina Bet-Tamraz testify about this deterioration. We have the privilege to freely decide and choose which religious or non-religious beliefs we want to adhere to. It is a privilege and a treasure that we should fully appreciate because in many countries thinking differently is perceived as a threat.”


During the debate with the numerous audience, MEP Peter Van Dalen was challenged about the efficiency of sanctions taken by the European Union. His answer was very convincing:

“Last year in April, the lawyer of a Christian couple in Pakistan called me for help because they had been on the death row for years on so-called blasphemy charges and they might be sentenced to death. It was decided to table an emergency resolution about their situation. The motion got a huge support and two weeks later, they were released, officially ‘for lack of evidence’. It shows that resolutions of the European Parliament do not remain unnoticed and can be very effective. Those two Christians could leave Pakistan and now live in a Western democratic country. Based on this success, I have just taken the initiative to send a letter to the EEAS and to Josep Borrell signed by eight MEPs to question the legitimacy of the commercial advantages attached to the GSP+ status, too generously granted to Pakistan and maintained despite the recurrent violations of religious freedom and human rights in Pakistan. Indeed, on 17 January, the National Assembly of Pakistan increased the punishment of insulting pious personalities of Islam, specifically family members of the prophet Muhammad, from three to ten years imprisonment.


Photo 1: Panel of the conference the 25 January 2023, at the European Parliament Brussels

Photo 2: Ms Dabrina Bet-Tamraz

Photo 3: MEP Miriam Lexmann – Photo credit: European Parliament

Photo 4: Nicola Beer | Source: European Parliament Audiovisual

Photo 5: MEP Peter Van Dalen at the European Parliament


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SOUTH KOREA: Objection to military service to be on the U.N. agenda

SOUTH KOREA: Conscientious objection to military service to be on the agenda of the United Nations

HRWF (24.01.2023) – On 26 January, the human rights record of the Republic of Korea will be examined by the United Nations in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The NGO “Conscience and Peace Tax International” filed a submission about conscientious objection to military service.


Executive Summary

  1. This submission, prepared in July 2022, deals with the situation in the Republic of Korea with regard to conscientious objection to military service.
  2. Since the last UPR Cycle, the Republic of Korea has taken a praiseworthy step forward by at last recognising the right and by ceasing the automatic imprisonment of conscientious objectors, for which it formerly had, numerically, the worst record of any State.
  3. The latest provisions however fall short of international standards in a number of respects.
  5. Military service, now of 18 months is obligatory for all male citizens of the Republic of Korea.
  6. For many years, the Republic of Korea refused to acknowledge the right of conscientious objection to military service, arguing that the security situation necessitated that all able-bodied males, without exception, should bear arms in the defence of the State. In a series of rulings, the Constitutional Court had upheld the supremacy of the duty of national defence over the freedom of conscience.
  7. All conscientious objectors were formerly tried under Article 88.1 of the Military Service Act, which stipulates that “If a person who has received a draft notice for active duty (…), without justifiable cause, does not report for service within the period specified (…) or refuses the summons, then he shall be sentenced to a prison term of three years or less…”. Until the year 2001, those charged under this article were tried in military courts and following imprisonment could face repeated call-up and conviction. From 2001, trials took place in civilian courts, and those who served sentences of 18 months or more were released from the obligation to perform military service; thereafter almost all were sentenced to exactly eighteen months’ imprisonment.
  8. In most years, upwards of 500 conscientious objectors, most but not all Jehovah’s Witnesses (1), were sentenced, with the result that at any one time the Republic of Korea had more currently-imprisoned conscientious objectors than the rest of the world together. The Jehovah’s Witnesses calculated that since 1950 over 19,000 of their members alone suffered imprisonment for their conscientious objection.

Legislative developments

  1. In June 2018 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Korea, dramatically overturning its previous jurisprudence, ruled that the failure to offer alternative forms of civilian service to conscientious objectors was unconstitutional. Furthermore, in November that year, the Supreme Court rendered a decision which decriminalized conscientious objection, holding that moral and religious beliefs are valid reasons to object to military service.
  2. In response, the National Assembly in December 2019 amended the Military Service Act and passed a new Act on the Transfer and Service of Alternative Service, which came into effect at the beginning of 2020. Under Article 3 , a person wishing to apply for alternative service on grounds of conscience must apply for “transfer to an alternative role”. Applications are examined by a commission set up for the purpose.
  3. The UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Freedom of Religion or Belief, in a communication of 28th November 2019 (2) expressed concern that the new legislation does not unequivocally guarantee the right of conscientious objection to military service:
  4. “First, there is a concern on the terminology used. Nowhere does the draft bill recognise a right to alternative service. Instead, [Article 5] gives conscientious objectors a right to apply for alternative service A plain reading of the draft bill therefore suggests that there could be circumstances where an individual is a conscientious objector but nevertheless is denied the right to perform alternative service.”
  5. “Second, (…) Article 13 (2) seems to allow the Alternative Service Committee to disregard the opinions of the individual himself or herself by a vote. This competence is not subject to further conditions. (…) The standard set by the Human Rights Committee is that the belief is genuinely held. Therefore, giving the Alternative Service Committee competence to disregard testimony by the individual concerned is likely to lead to results contrary to [ICCPR] Article 18 (1).”
  6. Moreover, “Article 6 (1) of the draft bill precludes individuals who have previously withdrawn their application from resubmitting an application. There might be many reasons for individuals to withdraw their application, one of which is the persistent and well-documented stigma regarding conscientious objection in the Republic of Korea”.
  7. They also “raise particular concerns with respect to Article 25 of the draft bill, which provides for cancellation of transfer to alternative service. Out of the 7 circumstances in [Article 25 (1)] which determine when a transfer shall be cancelled, only one of them raises no concerns, namely the voluntary cancellation in subparagraph 7. The rest (…) provide for cancellation of transfer where the individual has breached the rules of procedure and/or the rules applicable, but where the individual might legitimately be a conscientious objector.”

Alternative service arrangements

  1. Conscientious objectors accepted for alternative service are assigned for 36 months to an “alternative service training centre” within a “correctional facility”. In effect they are still sent to prison, with only their nominal status distinguishing them and their work from convicts. It has been argued that the service is thus in its very nature punitive (3).
  2. In the communication already quoted, the Special Rapporteurs express concerns aboutthe nature of the alternative service:

“As indicated by the Human Rights Committee, the alternative service must be a real service to the community and compatible with respect for human rights. While it is not contested that service in penitentiaries, detention centers, [etc] constitutes work of real service to the community, we express certain concerns relating to the exclusive emphasis on places of detention. In particular because many conscientious objectors might be transferred from a situation of incarceration to a situation where they perform service in prisons. Furthermore, despite draft article 17 (2) 1 excluding activities which require the use of arms or weapons, activities which entail the use of force against other individuals is not excluded. [In its reply dated 12th February 2020, the State answered this by reference to Article 16.2.] We note that in order to ensure that alternative service is of real service to the community and ensure the dignity of alternative service members, alternative service should take into consideration the competencies and preferences of the alternative service member.”

  1. We therefore suggest that Article 17 be amended, for example in the following way:
    “(1) Alternative service members shall perform services in the public interest. These services shall not entail the use or management of weapons or the use of force, or that would otherwise be contrary to international human rights law. (2) In the assessment of the placement of alternative service members, including the agency and post of the service member, the competencies and preferences of the alternative service member shall be taken into consideration. (3) Agencies which may receive alternative servicemen shall be designated by Presidential Decree”
  2. They note also that the duration f alternative service, twice that of military service, is also punitive. “There does not seem to be any objective justification [for this discrepancy] To be compatible with the Covenant, any unequal treatment on the basis of belief must be based on objective grounds, and be necessary and proportionate. The failure to provide such a justification is not only contrary to Article 26 of the Covenant, but also considered a punitive measure in violation of Article 18 (1).” (4)

The State justifies the duration by reference to the non-military service already performed by, for instance, medical personnel. This would seem to imply rather that the duration of such service is also discriminatory and punitive, and ought to be reconsidered.

  1. Various aspects of the conditions of service are also questionable. Everyone is accommodated in dormitories, without the exceptions made for the health difficulties or family responsibilities of those performing military service.. There are very strict restrictions on freedom of movement; during the first month objectors may not leave the facility at any time – thereafter limited numbers may be granted a few hours leave, but in no case beyond 9.30pm. Their access to communication with the outside world is severely restricted, and they have no right to privacy – even during medical consultations a prison official must be present. It is also unclear what, if any remuneration is attached to the service, or what facilities there are for receivng visits.
  2. Although objectors are assigned to the prison service, not the armed forces, the arrangements are not free from military control. Applications are considered by the Military Manpower Administration of the Ministry of Defence. Moreover, those performing alternative service are required to wear uniforms similar to those of prison staff. Many objectors view such requirements as detracting from the exclusively civilian nature of the service.
  3. Finally, the procedures for assignment to alternative service are to be suspended in a time of general mobilisation. It is not clear what practical effect this would have, but it is worth recalling the observation of UN Human Rights Committee member Sir Nigel Rodley, in an individual case from the Republic of Korea, “…It is precisely in time of armed conflict, when the community interests in question are most likely to be under greatest threat, that the right to conscientious objection is most in need of protection, most likely to be invoked and most likely to fail to be respected in practice…” (5)

22 The first centre opened on 26th October 2020; by the end of that year the first 106 objectors had started alternative service, from a total of 1,962 applicants, 730 of whom had been recognised. By the end of the year 2021, 2,022 conscientious objectors had been recognised, from a cumulative total of 2,536 applications and 654 had commenced alternative service (6) (By 1st March 2022, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 749 of their members had been assigned to seventeen facilities. 7) It is not reported how many of the 514 applications unaccounted for were still pending and how many had been definitively rejected. However the Jehovah’s Witnesses point out a structural flaw in that the number of placements is far from adequate for the number of applicants; they estimate that by 2023 only about half of some 3,200 applicants can be accommodated.

  1. As of 1st March 2022, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a total of 44 complaints against the alternative service arrangements had been lodged with the Constitutional Court and seven others submitted to the National human Rights Commission.


  1. By December 2018, all but thirteen of more than five hundred conscientious objectors in prison earlier that year had been released. The thirteen were those of whose conscientious motivation the State was, rightly or wrongly, not convinced. Anticipating the Constitutional Court ruling, lower courts had already put on hold many pending cases, and the Supreme Court had unprecedentedly found for two conscientious objectors on appeal. The State was subsequently able to report that in November 2019 there were no conscientious objectors .in prison. (8)
  2. Nevertheless, conscientious objectors whose claims are not accepted by the Commission continue to face imprisonment if they persist with their refusal of military service, and it is alleged that those whose objections are not of a religious nature are particularly at risk. As of March 2022, however, even two Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in prison as conscientious objectors and the cases of ten more were still pending.
  3. The Republic of Korea also criminalises the refusal of reserve service. The penalty for such refusal may be a short prison sentence, but is usually a fine. However this does not discharge the responsibility; conscientious objectors who are reservists may be subjected to repeated call-ups and repeated penalties over an eight-year period. As the Human Rights Committee has observed, this “may amount to punishment for the same crime if (the) subsequent refusal is based on the same constant resolve grounded in reasons of conscience,” thereby breaching the principle of ne bis in idem (9). Twenty such Jehovah’s Witnesses cases were pending in March 2022.
  4. In its List of Issues prior to the Republic of Korea’s Fifth Periodic Report under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, (10)“ the Human Rights Committee refers back to its previous Concluding Observations and as well as asking for information on progress with the then current proposed legislation on alternative service, asked the State to report on the steps taken to “expunge the criminal records of conscientious objectors, provide compensation to those individuals and ensure that their personal information is not publicly disclosed”
  5. The State reply was relatively encouraging: “The Government has taken necessary measures including expunging criminal records under the applicable laws such as the Act on the Lapse of Criminal Sentences. When a case is finalized with acquittal, the suspect may claim compensation for the detention period against the Government and apply for the announcement on the intent of the not guilty decision to restore his impaired reputation via Internet, etc. under the procedure provided in the Act on Criminal Compensation and Restoration of Impaired Reputation.

“The Government granted 1,879 conscientious objectors a special parole (…) releasing [them] 1,878 from disqualification for appointment as an executive or a public official (11).” This had previously been precluded under Article 76 of the Military Service Law. These numbers must however be seen in the context of the tens of thousands who had over the years been imprisoned as conscientious objectors.

  1. Finally, without stating whether Article 81.2 of the Miitary Service Law, introduced in 2015, has been repealed, it reports that “The Military Manpower Administration (…) no longer discloses the list of conscientious objectors (12).”

UPR Recommendations

  1. In its examination during the Third Cycle of the UPR, the Republic of Korea received a total of thirteen recommendations on this issue from twelve States: (13)

Decriminalise conscientious objection (Germany, USA, Argentina, Portugal)
Introduce alternative service (Mexico, Panama), of a genuinely civilian nature (Germany, USA), under civilian control (Australia, Switzerland), compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature (Croatia) and of a non-punitive length (Canada, Australia, France)

Release those imprisoned for refusing to perform military service (Germany, Panama ; and consider expunging the corresponding charges from their criminal records (Croatia, Costa Rica / examine thesituation of individuals who are currently imprisoned (…) with a view to offering them an alternative civilian service (France);

  1. Although at the time the State expressed support only for expunging of criminal records (14), it subsequently acted on all of these recommendations. Nevertheless, as reported above, there are concerns about the nature and duration of the alternative service, and that, although far fewer than in the past, imprisonments of conscientious objectors have not completely ceased.

Suggested recommendations:

  1. While applauding the progress made by the Republic of Korea since the last review with regard to recognising and implementing the right of conscientious objection to military service, recommendations might be made:

that, taking into accounts the comments of the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Eypression and Freedom of Religion ad Belief in their communication of November 2019, it review the current alternative service provisions with a view to ensuring that they all aspects of the arrangements are completely civilian in nature and control, compatible in each case with the reasons for the objection, available without discrimination to all conscientious objectors, irrespective of the grounds of the objection, and that by comparison with military service alternative service is neither punitive no discriminatory in any way.


(1) Of the first 237 current “draft evaders” whose details were notoriously made public by the Government in 2016, 160 were known to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.

(2) KOR 4/2019, page 4.

(3) Amnesty international, “South Korea: Alternative to military srvice is new punishment for conscientious onbjectors”, 27th December, 2019.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Views adopted on Communications 1642/2007 to 1741/2007, Min-Kyu Jeong et al v Republic of Korea, 24th March, 2011 (CCPR/C/101/D/1642-1741/2007, issued 5th April 2011, Appendix II, paras 14,15


(6) Submission (dated 24th March, 2022), from the Republic of Korea for the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the 50th Session of the Human Rights Council on conscientious objection to military service (A/HRC/50/43)


(7) Submission from the Jehovahßs Witnesses for A/HRC/50/43


(8) CCPR/C/KOR/5, 21st August, 2021, para 169.


(9) Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 32 (CCPR/C/GC/32, 23 August 2007), para 55.


(10) CCPR/C/KOR/QPR/5, 21st August 2019, para 21.


(11) CCPR/C/KOR/5, paras 170 and 171. (The Human Rights Committee is not due to examine the report until after the forthcoming UPR Session.)


(12) Ibid, para 174.


(13) A/HRC/37/11, 27th December 2017, paras 94 – 106, inclusive.


(14) A/HRC/28/11, 28th February 2018.

Photo: United Nations Geneva – Palais des Nations

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GERMANY: Hate speech and incitement to violence of a Turkish AKP lawmaker

GERMANY: Hate speech and incitement to violence of a Turkish AKP lawmaker in Neuss

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (25.01.2023) – “Just as we won’t give them the right to live in Turkey, we won’t give them the right to live in Germany, either. No matter where they flee in the world, we will destroy the PKK and FETÖ terrorist groups,” AKP MP Mustafa Açıkgöz said in video footage circulating on social media at mid-January, using a derogatory term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the faith-based movement of Fethullah Gülen as a terrorist organization.

Fethullah Gülen was an imam from 1959 to 1981. He developed the theology of Said Nursi that embraces democratic modernity and Islam. See our report on the Said Nursi movement here. Since 1999, Gülen has lived in self-exile in the United States. He is an opponent to President Erdogan who has repeatedly but vainly asked the US to extradite him. He founded his movement (known as the hizmet, meaning “service” in Turkish), which is a 3-to-6 million strong volunteer-based movement in Turkey and around the world. All Hizmet’s schools, foundations and other entities in Turkey have been closed by the Turkish government following the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt which Erdogan blamed, without any evidence, on Gülen.

The Turkish lawmaker’s remarks came during a meeting in Neuss of the Grey Wolves, which are seen as the paramilitary wing of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP. They were interpreted as a call for violence on German soil.

The Düsseldorf prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the lawmaker from Turkey’s ruling party after the German Foreign Ministry warned the Turkish ambassador saying that “hate speech has no place in Germany” and that what Açıkgöz did during the event in Neuss “must not be repeated.”

“We made clear that foreign election campaign events must be approved by us in advance. If Turkish representatives don’t play by the rules, we must determine the consequences,” the ministry said in a tweet.

A law introduced in 2017 banned non-EU leaders from campaigning on German soil within three months of elections in their country. Foreign officials also need to file a request with the German government to hold any kind of political event in Germany.

Meanwhile, DW on Wednesday said Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country’s domestic security agency, found the AKP lawmaker’s speech at the Grey Wolves event “worrying.”

The developments are expected to speed up the banning of the Grey Wolves in Germany, whose “violent tendencies” are said to endanger internal security in a recent report by the BfV.

In 2020 France officially banned the Grey Wolves after a center dedicated to the memory of those who died in the mass killings of Armenians during World War I was defaced with graffiti, including the name of the Grey Wolves.

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INDIA: Concern in Goa as Hindu group storms Catholic college

INDIA: Concern in Goa as Hindu group storms Catholic college

The student wing of ruling pro-Hindu party stage a protest and disrupt classes in Goa’s St. Xavier’s College

UCA News (25.01.2023) – https://bit.ly/3HvvslL – Church leaders in Goa, a former Portuguese colony in western India, have expressed concern over the ruling pro-Hindu party’s push to infiltrate Catholic educational institutions.

“Our Catholic educational institutions are getting more and more communalized,” with the backing of the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the state and at federal level, says Jesuit Father Anthony Da Silva, director of Xavier Centre of Historical Research in Goa.

The aim is to push forward the pro-Hindu ideology on Christian educational campuses, the Jesuit priest alleged.

Father Da Silva was particularly referring to a recent incident in which some members of BJP’s student wing created tension in the Church-run St. Xavier’s College by shouting slogans and disrupting classes. The college comes under the archdiocese of Goa and Daman.

The members of ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad or All Indian Students Forum) were protesting the college authorities’ refusal to induct the new Student Council in the college after the pro-Hindu students’ wing won the council elections held in December for the academic year 2022-23.

It was an “unfortunate and unprecedented incident” in the 60-year-old college, according to Father Tony Salema, the college administrator.

College principal Blanche Mascarenhas refused to meet the unruly protesters and the management asked them to disperse.  But protesters refused, forcing the management to call the police.

The protestors also refused to follow police directions, and the college management sought the help of the deputy collector to bring the situation under control, Father Salema said in a statement.

“For the first time, we had a cultural shock with the political sloganeering,” said Father Ramiro Luis, assistant professor of psychology at St Xavier’s.

More than 2,000 students currently study in the college, set up in 1963, two years after the 450-year Portuguese rule ended in Goa.

Father Victor Ferrao, professor of philosophy at Rachol Seminary of Goa Archdiocese, told UCA News that BJP began to gain political prominence with several legislators, including Catholics, joining the pro-Hindu party in the state recently.

“Now, BJP is using its student wing to show its muscle power and to spread its ideology in Catholic institutions,” Father Ferrao, told UCA News.

Father Ferrao said the ruling party was trying to establish a foothold in Christian institutions.

Frederic Noronha, journalist-publisher and former student of St. Xavier’s said the BJP was “trying to infiltrate all branches of the administration, including bureaucracy, police, media, and the legal system and educational institutions.”

Father Da Silva said the tone was set last year by state Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who appointed a committee to prepare the list of Hindu temples destroyed by the Portuguese rulers.

The government has set aside a huge amount of money to achieve this aim, the priest said, adding that the diverse activities should be seen in the background of the BJP’s proclaimed goal of turning India into a nation of Hindus.

Goa was once considered the center of the Catholic mission in Asia, particularly after the Goa diocese was established in 1533. The diocese at the time had jurisdiction from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to China and Japan.

Catholics once dominated Goa’s socio-political activities but currently, they form only some 25 percent of the state’s estimated 1.5 million people. Hindus are a dominant community forming 65 percent of the population.

Photo: Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrao, Archbishop of Goa, offers incense during a religious service held during the exposition of the body of St. Francis Xavier in Old Goa, on Nov. 21, 2004. (Photo: AFP)

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UKRAINE: First known wartime conscientious objector jailing

UKRAINE: First known wartime conscientious objector jailing

Felix Corley 


Forum18 (17.01.2023) – 46-year-old Christian Vitaly Alekseenko expects to be taken to begin his one-year jail term on 19 January. On 16 January, Ivano-Frankivsk Appeal Court rejected his appeal against his conviction for refusing call up to the military on conscientious grounds. His is the fifth known Ukrainian court conviction since Russia renewed its invasion – the other four men received suspended sentences. “I told the court I agree that I have broken the law of Ukraine,” Alekseenko told Forum 18, “but I am not guilty under the law of God.”

For the first known time since Russia renewed its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukraine has jailed an individual for refusing on grounds of conscience a military call-up. On 16 January, the Appeal Court in the south-western city of Ivano-Frankivsk rejected the appeal by 46-year-old Christian Vitaly Alekseenko against his one-year jail term. When he gets the written verdict, which he expects on 19 January, the sentence will go into force and he expects to be taken to prison immediately afterwards.

“I told the court I agree that I have broken the law of Ukraine,” Alekseenko told Forum 18 from Ivano-Frankivsk after the appeal hearing, “but I am not guilty under the law of God. I want to be honest to myself.” He added that had he repented of his “crime”, both the lower and the appeal court would have given him a suspended sentence (see below).

Alekseenko told Forum 18 he would lodge a further appeal. However, such an appeal would not prevent the sentence now going into force (see below).

Yurii Sheliazhenko, secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, described the appeal court decision as “bad news”. “It is a dangerous precedent that the appeal court upheld a sentence of imprisonment for a conscientious objector,” he told Forum 18 from the capital Kyiv (see below).

Alekseenko, an internally-displaced person from Donetsk Region, was summoned to the recruitment office in Ivano-Frankivsk in June 2022. He explained that because of his religious belief he cannot take up arms. He was refused alternative civilian service and his case was handed to prosecutors. On 15 September 2022, Ivano-Frankivsk City Court handed down the one-year jail term (see below).

An official of the Ivano-Frankivsk City Recruitment Office, who refused to give his name, said he was not familiar with Alekseenko’s case. “We’re not competent to answer your questions,” the official told Forum 18. “We generally offer alternative service to members of religious communities.” The official refused to say how many men had been able to opt for alternative civilian service since the February 2022 renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine (see below).

When Forum 18 asked the official why Alekseenko could not have been assigned an alternative civilian service in a needed occupation at a time of war, say at a hospital, the official did not explain why (see below).

In four earlier criminal cases in 2022, courts handed conscientious objectors suspended prison sentences and terms of probation:

– 18 May 2022, Andrii Kucher, Mukachevo, suspended 4-year jail term;

– 21 June 2022, Dmytro Kucherov, Oleksandriia (Kirovohrad Region), suspended 3-year jail term;

– 17 August 2022, Oleksandr Korobko, Mukachevo, suspended 3-year jail term;

– 22 August 2022, Maryan Kapats, Mukachevo, suspended 3-year jail term.

Kucherov, a member of Source of Life Pentecostal Church, bases his objection to military service on his Christian faith. The court decisions in the other three cases describe only the individuals’ conscientious objection to killing people.

Under a 10 November 1999 Cabinet of Ministers Decree, only men who belonged to 10 specified religious communities that the state recognised as pacifist were allowed to opt for alternative civilian service. These communities are: Reformist Adventists; Seventh-day Adventists; Evangelical Christians; Evangelical Christians–Baptists; “The Penitents” or Slavic Church of the Holy Ghost; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Charismatic Christian Churches (and associated churches under their registered statutes); Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith – Pentecostals (and associated churches under their registered statutes); Christians of Evangelical Faith; Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Men who were not members of any of these 10 communities were not eligible to apply for alternative service.

One of the 10 communities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, are conscientious objectors to military service in any country, but the majority are willing to undertake an alternative, totally civilian form of service.

Since Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the declaration of martial law in Ukraine, Recruitment Offices have summoned thousands of Jehovah’s Witness men. Prosecutors opened criminal cases against 67 individuals, of which 44 have already been closed, Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18.

“Considering that thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been summoned to the conscription office, this is a very positive situation,” Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. “It is a positive sign that the government respects conscientious objectors even during a military conflict.” They added that they are grateful that the government respects individuals’ requests for civilian alternative service “despite difficult circumstances”.

Sheliazhenko of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement notes that the verdicts in all five conscientious objector convictions no longer appear on the public online register of court verdicts run by the State Court Administration in Kyiv. “The disappearance from the public register of [Alekseenko’s lower court] verdict and other verdicts where objectors were sentenced to prison with replacement of incarceration with probation looks like an attempt to hide the human rights violations from the public,” he insisted (see below).

The State Court Administration in Kyiv has not replied to Forum 18’s written question as to why the verdicts in these five cases no longer appear on the public online register of court verdicts (see below).

Implementation of conscientious objection to military service

In Ukraine, everyone must register their home address with the authorities. In addition, all men (including conscientious objectors to military service) must also register with the local military Recruitment Office. All men are then given a military card which states whether they are doing military service, have done this, are exempt, are reservists, or have done alternative service.

In Ukraine, conscientious objectors to military service have long faced obstacles to doing alternative civilian service. The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in its 9 February 2022 Concluding Observations on Ukraine (CCPR/C/UKR/CO/8) stressed that “alternatives to military service should be available to all conscientious objectors without discrimination as to the nature of their beliefs justifying the objection (be they religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience)”.

On 21 August 2022, the Ukrainian Defence Ministry told the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement that during martial law the right to do alternative civilian service has been suspended (see below).

The UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 22 on Article 18 (“Freedom of thought, conscience and religion”) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) notes that “this right is non-derogable even during times of national emergency threatening the life of the nation”.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated in 2019 that “the right to conscientious objection to military service is part of the absolutely protected right to hold a belief under article 18 (1) of the Covenant, which cannot be restricted by States”.

Within Russia in its internationally-recognised boundaries, no legal or practical provision exists for alternative civilian service during mobilisation, despite the Constitution guaranteeing this right for every citizen.

Russia has within the Ukrainian territories it has illegally occupied since 2014 conscripted men into its armed forces. This is a crime under Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which covers the rights of civilians in territories occupied by another state (described as “protected persons”). Article 51 states: “The Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. No pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted.”

An 11 May 2022 analytical report (A/HRC/50/43) by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that OHCHR has documented that Russia has in the illegally-occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea seriously violated international human rights law by conscripting over 3,000 men into the Russian armed forces.

Alternative civilian service “not applicable” under martial law

Following the renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree imposing martial law for 90 days. All men between the ages of 18 and 60 were deemed eligible for call-up in a general mobilisation and were banned from leaving the country. The period of martial law was extended several times and is currently due to end on 19 February 2023.

The Ukrainian Pacifist Movement expressed concern that during martial law the Defence Ministry might not respect individuals’ right to perform an alternative civilian service if they cannot serve in the armed forces on grounds of conscience. It wrote to the Defence Ministry on 26 July 2022.

In its 21 August 2022 response, seen by Forum 18, Colonel Oleg Khrystenko, Deputy Chief of the Main Personnel Department of the General Staff, pointed out that under the Alternative Service Law, men could opt for alternative service “if the performance of military duty conflicts with their religious beliefs and these citizens belong to religious organisations operating in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine, whose creed does not allow the use of weapons”.

However, Colonel Khrystenko insisted that because of the Russian invasion and the declaration of martial law, regular conscription to military service had been suspended, to be replaced by mobilisation. “Therefore, based on the above, the implementation of the constitutional right of citizens to undergo alternative (non‐military) service under the conditions of the legal regime of martial law and during mobilisation, due to the absence of conscription for term‐limited military service, is not applicable.”

Colonel Khrystenko added that the Mobilisation Training and Mobilisation Law “does not provide for alternative (non‐military) service for conscripts who are called up for military service during mobilisation”.

Recruitment Office rejects alternative service request

Vitaly Vasilovich Alekseenko (born 2 December 1976) was living in Slovyansk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk Region when Russia began its renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In 2017 he was registered with the Ukrainian Conscription Office in Slovyansk, but was given not a military card. However, he was given a certificate valid until 2022 confirming that he had not served in the military in the 1990s in Uzbekistan, where he then lived, on grounds of conscience.

Alekseenko fled to Ivano-Frankivsk in May 2022. The City Recruitment Office summoned him on 2 June. He told them that he could not take up arms because of his religious beliefs as a Christian. “I told them I was ready to do an alternative service and wrote such a declaration,” he told Forum 18. He also explained that he had refused military service in Uzbekistan on grounds of conscience.

“They told me that there is no certainty that I’m a believer,” Alekseenko told Forum 18 on 15 December 2022. “They said that only members of registered faiths have the right to do alternative service.” He said he believes in Jesus Christ and his command to resist evil without violence and be peacemakers as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I don’t go to any church as they don’t observe what Christ said.”

The Recruitment Office summoned Alekseenko again on 6 June, telling him they rejected his application for alternative service. When he refused to be mobilised, officials called in the police.

Alekseenko explained that he was not afraid and chose not to flee or hide from the authorities. “I’m not afraid, even of prison,” he told Forum 18 in December.

An official of the Ivano-Frankivsk City Recruitment Office, who refused to give his name, said he was not familiar with Alekseenko’s case. “We’re not competent to answer your questions,” the official told Forum 18 on 17 January 2023. “We generally offer alternative service to members of religious communities.” The official refused to say how many men had been able to opt for alternative civilian service since the February 2022 renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine.

When Forum 18 told the official that Alekseenko’s objections to serving in the military are based on his religious beliefs, the official replied: “Let him come in to us a second time.” Told that Alekseenko is about to start his prison term after his appeal was rejected, the official repeated that he was unfamiliar with the circumstances of his case.

When Forum 18 asked the official why Alekseenko could not have been assigned an alternative civilian service in a needed occupation at a time of war, say at a hospital, the official did not explain why.

Criminal case, trial, conviction, jail sentence

The investigator told Alekseenko a criminal case would be launched against him under Article 336 of the Criminal Code. This punishes “Refusing call-up for military service during mobilisation or in a special period, and for military service during call-up of reservists in a special period”. Punishment is a jail term of three to five years.

On the investigator’s advice, Alekseenko pleaded guilty, but refused to repent of his actions “because he is convinced that he behaved decently as a Christian, followed the imperative of his conscience and did nothing wrong”, the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement said in a 9 November 2022 letter to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

At his criminal trial at Ivano-Frankivsk City Court on 15 September 2022, Judge Roman Khorostil found Alekseenko guilty under Criminal Code Article 336, according to the decision seen by Forum 18. It notes that Prosecutor Olga Gazukina, who led the prosecution case in court, called for a three-year suspended jail term.

However, Judge Khoristil ignored the Prosecutor’s request and decided to jail Alekseenko. He noted the pre-trial report that said that Alekseenko did not represent a danger to society and reduced his sentence to a one-year jail term. The verdict says that the term begins when Alekseenko is actually detained.

Alekseenko appealed to Ivano-Frankivsk Appeal Court. After postponements because of the lack of electricity, the appeal hearing finally took place on 16 January 2023, according to court records. Volodymyr Povzlo was the Presiding Judge, accompanied by fellow Judges Oleksandr Vasilev and Bogdan Kukurudz. The hearing was open, Alekseenko told Forum 18, and friends attended the hearing in his support.

“I told the court I agree that I have broken the law of Ukraine,” Alekseenko told Forum 18, “but I am not guilty under the law of God. I want to be honest to myself.” He added that had he repented of his “crime”, both the lower and the appeal court would have given him a suspended sentence. “How could I do that when I am not guilty?”

The appeal court rejected an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief from Sheliazhenko of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement arguing that Alekseenko should be acquitted. The Judges said that they know the law better, Sheliazhenko noted.

One Judge asked Alekseenko how he could prove that killing people was incompatible with his religious beliefs. He responded that if the court did not believe him he would be unable to convince it. He again set out his religious reasons for opposing military service. “Vitaliy’s simpleness and sincerity seemingly didn’t impress the court,” Sheliazhenko told Forum 18.

Presiding Judge Povzlo expressed displeasure that the court had received messages from around the world in support of Alekseenko, Sheliazhenko told Forum 18.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Prosecutor Gazukina on 17 January.

Alekseenko told Forum 18 he would lodge a further appeal against his conviction and jailing. “I don’t want anyone else to suffer this.” However, he said he was “reconciled” to his fate. “Prison is prison.”

Cases no longer visible on public register of verdicts

The verdicts in all five known conscientious objector convictions no longer appear on the public online register of court verdicts run by the State Court Administration in Kyiv. Attempts to access them reach a page which says “The page view is not available. Invalid or outdated link.” Most, but not all, of the verdicts in other cases from those courts and dates were publicly available when Forum 18 looked on 17 January.

“The disappearance from the public register of [Alekseenko’s lower court] verdict and other verdicts where objectors were sentenced to prison with replacement of incarceration with probation looks like an attempt to hide the human rights violations from the public,” Sheliazhenko of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement told Forum 18 on 16 January.

In late morning of 17 January, Forum 18 asked the State Court Administration in Kyiv why the verdicts in these five conscientious objector cases are no longer visible on the public register. Forum 18 had received no response by the end of the working day in Kyiv.

Severe human rights violations in Russian-occupied Ukraine

Serious violations of freedom of religion and belief and other human rights take place within all the Ukrainian territory Russia has illegally occupied.

Within the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea these include: forced imposition of Russian laws and restrictions on exercising human rights, including freedom of religion or belief; jailing Muslim and Jehovah’s Witness Crimean prisoners of conscience; forcible closure of places of worship; and fining people for leading meetings for worship without Russian state permission.

Within the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Luhansk these have up to the renewed 2022 invasion of Ukraine included: rendering illegal all Protestant and non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox communities; a climate of fear about discussing human rights violations; repeated denials of permission to a Roman Catholic priest to live in the region; and increasing numbers of banned allegedly “extremist” books, including an edition of the Gospel of John published in 1820.

Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Russian-occupied Ukraine

Forum 18’s compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments

Photo: Vitaly Alekseenko


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