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RUSSIA: Russia sentences three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison

Russia sentences three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison

51 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in prison and 34 under house arrest – 246 criminal cases involving 517 believers are open

HRWF with Moscow Times and JW.ORG (30.07.2021) – A Russian district court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced three Jehovah’s Witnesses to six years in prison on extremism charges on Thursday, the religious organization told The Moscow Times in an emailed statement.

 

Alexander Parkov and Arsen Avanesov were sentenced to six and a half years, and Vilen Avanesov to six years in prison. All three had pleaded “not guilty.”

 

In 2017, the Russian Supreme Court declared the Christian denomination extremist and banned all of its activities. Since the designation, 51 followers are currently in prison, 33 have been sentenced to a prison term and 34 remain under house arrest, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia website.

 

Spokesman for the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses Yaroslav Sivulsky called the extremism sentences “groundless.”

 

“Since the Supreme Court did not prohibit professing the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses individually or in community with others, the ban applies exclusively to legal entities, but not to the faith itself,” he said in the statement.

 

Extremist activity includes “propaganda of the exclusivity, superiority or inferiority of a person on the basis of his social, racial, national, religious or linguistic affiliation or attitude to religion” according to the language in the 2017 ruling.

 

The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Russian authorities is groundless, since the Supreme Court did not prohibit professing the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses individually or in community with others. The ban applies exclusively to legal entities, but not to the faith itself.


Rachel Denber
, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, says: “These men should never, ever have had to spend a minute in prison, and yet they’ve been locked up for two years. It is never too late for Russian authorities to stop these arrests, release Jehovah’s witnesses who are behind bars, stop these criminal proceedings, and quash the convictions that have already taken place.” [denberr@hrw.org]

 

Some reactions

 

Sir Andrew Wood, former U.K. ambassador to Russia (1995-2000), says: “Two years plus in pretrial detention before a verdict on Extremism for three Jehovah’s Witnesses is already an injustice. ‘Extremism’ in Russia is an indictment delivered by diktat labelling a number of organisations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has no credible definition. It carries harsh penalties. Persons who remain true to their convictions are especially exposed to its cruelty. Its purpose is repression, not the exercise of justice.” [contact: andrewood40@gmail.com]

 

Tatyana Moskalkova, Ombudsman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, referring to the growing number of criminal cases against believers, said in her report to the President of Russia: “These events make one think about the existence of a conflict between the constitutional right to profess one’s religion individually or jointly with others and signs of extremist activity, specified in article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. […] Vague criteria for classifying religious materials as extremist are unacceptable, when virtually any federal judge at his own discretion can prohibit any book, image, video or audio recording.”

 

 

Nationwide Persecution (Russia and Crimea)

  • 246 criminal cases, involving 517 believers
  • 51 in prison
  • 34 under house arrest
  • 1,507 homes of Witnesses raided since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that liquidated the Witnesses’ legal entities
  • Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been charged with or convicted of extremism for their faith, as political prisoners

Photo: Russia declared the Christian denomination extremist in 2017. Alexander Artemenkov / TASS

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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RUSSIA: Special Bimonthly FORB Digest July (16-31.07.2021)

RUSSIA: Special Bimonthly FORB Digest (16-31.07.2021)

29.07.21 – Rostov court treats Jehovah’s Witnesses harshly

Full text only in Russian: https://www.kavkaz-uzel.media/articles/366509/

A court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced to real prison terms in a penal colony of general regime the Jehovah’s Witnesses Alexander Parkov, and Vilen and Arsen Avanesov, having found them guilty in a case regarding an extremist organization.

Continue reading…

29.07.21 – A wave of searches in 4 cities of the Murmansk Region. Roman Markin convicted of faith is among its victims

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/291740.html

On July 21 and 22, 2021, about 10 searches were carried out in four cities of the Murmansk region. The security forces broke into the homes of local Jehovah’s Witnesses mostly at night, interrogated them for many hours, and confiscated personal belongings. Criminal cases have been initiated against four believers.

Continue reading…

28.07.21 – New search and criminal case for faith in Luchegorsk. 62-year-old Yuriy Ponomarenko was placed on recognizance not to leave.

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/280833.html

On July 22, 2021, a 62-year-old electrician Yuriy Ponomarenko was searched in Luchegorsk (Primorsky Territory). Later, the believer was interrogated and placed on recognizance not to leave. A criminal case was initiated against him under an extremist article.

Continue reading…

23.07.21 – The appeal in Novosibirsk upheld the verdict against Vitaliy Popov for faith

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/231447.html

On July 23, 2021, the Novosibirsk Regional Court upheld the verdict of the first instance court. Vitaliy Popov, 54, was found guilty of participation in the activities of an extremist organization and its financing.

Continue reading…

22.07.21 – Moscow patriarch addresses Orthodox political assembly

Link to full text in Russian: https://religionpravda.com.ua/?p=72022

Patriarch of Moscow Kirill urged “strengthening solidarity in support of suffering brethren in the Near East, in Northern Africa, in Kosovo and Metohija, in Ukraine, and also wherever Christians are being subjected to persecution.” He talked about this in his appeal to participants in the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy on Crete.

Continue reading…

21.07.21 – In the town of Kodinsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was detained after a search

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/211416.html

Early on the morning of July 20, 2021 law enforcement officers conducted searches in Kodinsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory, at least five locations where Jehovah’s Witnesses reside. According to preliminary data, one person was detained. Electronic devices were confiscated from peaceful believers.

Continue reading…

21.07.21 – Heavy fines imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kirov

Link to full text in Russian: https://vkirove.ru/news/2021/07/21/3_svidetelya_iegovy_prigovoreny_v_kirovskoy_oblasti_k_shtrafam.html

The regional Investigative Committee of Russia (S.K.R.) has reported the completion of the judicial investigation and the imposing of a sentence in a criminal case, which was investigated by the first department for investigation of especially serious cases of the investigation department of the Investigative Committee of Russia for Kirov oblast on charges regarding three residents of Kirov oblast.

Continue reading…

20.07.21 – In Birobidzhan the Court gave Anna Lokhvitskaya a 2.5 year suspended sentence for her belief in Jehovah. Such a sentence had already been imposed on her husband and mother-in-law

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/201520.html

On July 20, 2021, Judge Vasilina Bezotecheskikh of the Birobidzhan District Court of the EAD sentenced Anna Lokhvitskaya to 2.5 years’ probation for participating in the activities of a banned organization. The verdict can be appealed. The believer insists that she wasn’t involved in any extremism.

Continue reading…

20.07.21 – The Court of Appeal left unchanged the verdict against four believers from the City of Chekhov

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/201729.html

On 20 July 2021, the Moscow regional court did not satisfy the appeal against the criminal case against Vitaliy Nikiforov, Konstantin Zherebtsov, Yuriy and Zinaida Krutyakov from the town of Chekhov. The court equated their peaceful discussion of the Bible with friends with extremism.

Continue reading…

19.07.21 – Seven Jehovah’s Witnesses in Griazi are defendants

Link to full text in Russian: https://moskvichi.net/dvoe-svidetelej-iegovy-dostavleny-pod-domashnij-arest-posle-240-dnej-v-sizo-moskvichi-net-proisshestvija/

On 15 July, a Griazi city court of Lipetsk oblast transferred to house arrest the Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Kretov and Evgeny Reshetnikov, who had been in pre-trial detention for 241 days. This was reported by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia website.

Continue reading…

17.07.21 – Orthodox believers defy government to honor royal saints

Link to full text in Russian: https://credo.press/238211/

Several thousand pilgrims made their way in the night of 17 July for a procession of the cross in memory of the death of the Holy Tsar Nicholas II, scheduled for the 103rd anniversary of the shooting of the royal family. The procession, which was forbidden by the authorities because of the coronavirus pandemic, began after the liturgy conducted by hierarchs of the RPTsMP in the Church-on-the-Blood

.Continue reading…

15.07.21 – The re-examination of the criminal case for faith in Karpinsk is over. Defendants received suspended sentences from 1 to 2.5 Years

Link to full text in Russian: https://jw-russia.org/news/2021/07/161427.html

On July 15, 2021, the judge of the Karpinsk City Court of the Sverdlovsk Region Vera Bazuyeva found Aleksandr Prianikov, as well as Venera and Darya Dulova guilty of participating in the activities of a banned organization. Their case was re-tried in the same court after the previous verdict was overturned.

Continue reading…

Further reading about FORB in Russia on HRWF website





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UK: Christian evangelist stabbed in London recovers from injuries

Christian evangelist stabbed in London recovers from injuries

Hatun Tash is a Christian apologist who has been sharing the gospel with Muslims in the well-known Speaker’s Corner of Hyde Park.

Evangelical Focus (26.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3l8gpnn – Hatun Tash, a former Muslim who is now a Christian speaker sharing the gospel with Muslim background people, was stabbed in the Speaker’s Corner, an area in London’s Hyde Park were public debates are organised.

 

According to friends and colleagues of Christian ministry Hatun has worked with, the 39-year-old woman “is fine and under medical attention”.

 

The Christian woman was stabbed on her hand and face by a young man wearing black, who later fled the scene as some of the other 30 people there confronted him. The knife used in the attack was recovered.

 

According to UK newspaper The Daily Mail, Detective Superintendent Alex Bingley (Central West Command Unit), said: “This was clearly a very distressing incident for the woman involved and officers have spent time with her, whilst she was being treated for her injury, to get an account of what happened”. He asked for members of the public who had video recordings of the attack to share them with the police. The Superintendent added that no arrests had been made yet.

 

A Christian apologist among Muslims

 

Hatun is known for debating Muslims and offering a Christian perspective that confronts Islam.

 

Social media video footage shows how even as she waits for an ambulance to arrive, Hatun speaks to Muslims citizens about the need to “repent”. “God does not need me”, she says with blood on her face and arm. She had previously collapsed for some minutes.

Hatun Tash leads DCCI ministries, which “seeks to preach the Gospel to Muslims using apologetics and polemics (…) Our motivation is a love for Muslims to bring them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in order to attain eternal life”.

 

She and has worked with several Christian ministries, both in the UK and outside, including Pfander, an organisation that “engages Islam through research, writing, film, informal and formal debates”. According to Jay Smith, a friend of Tash and founder of Pfander, it is not the first time she has been attacked with violence. “We need to pray for her recovery”, Smith said in a video published after the incident. “This will not detract her”. He added: “Speaker’s Corner should be a place where we can speak and we can criticise”.

 

Hatun Tash has also been a speaker at the European Leadership Forum, an annual conference in Poland bringing together evangelical leaders from across Europe.

 

HRWF comment

The incident was either ignored by a number of mainline British media or focusing on the victim’s wearing a Charlie Hebdo tee-shirt. It hereby gave the impression that it was the sole reason for the attack but they failed to mention the possibly religious dimension of the assault (See i.e. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-57965251)

 

See the analysis of the media coverage of the incident on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gTYtEc12Pg

 

The victim is a 39-year-old ex-Muslim from Turkey who is now a prominent critic of Islam and believes Muslims should be encouraged to convert to Christianity.

She has had many heated discussions with Islamic preachers and others, and has previously been attacked for piercing holes through the Koran and waving a cartoon image of the Prophet Mohammed depicted as a crying baby.

In October 2020, Sadiq Khan was asked about Ms Tash at Mayor’s Question Time and said police had escorted her out of Hyde Park ‘for her own safety’ after a large and hostile crowd had gathered around her. He added that ‘freedom of speech is a principle that I hold dear’, adding: ‘One of the best things about London is the fierce way in which we protect this right and people’s ability to exercise it.’

 

Photo : The Christian speaker Hatun Tash after being attacked on 25 July. / Video: Soco Films via Pfander films.

Further reading about FORB in United Kingdom on HRWF website





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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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PAKISTAN: It is time for the EU to question the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan

It is time for the EU to question the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan

Moreover, EU member states fail to provide a safe haven to a Christian couple arrested in 2013, sentenced to death in 2014 and acquitted for lack of evidence in June 2021

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

 

HRWF (28.07.2021) – The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used and abused by extremist Islamic groups to persecute members of non-Muslim minorities and whoever tries to combat this religiously motivated instrumentalization is at risk of losing his life, a panel of experts said at a zoom conference organized by AIDLR (Alliance Internationale pour la Défense de la Liberté Religieuse) at the Press Club in Brussels on 27 July.

 

“The blasphemy laws of Pakistan, while purporting to protect Islam and the religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and the judiciary; as such they permit abuse, harassment and persecution of minorities in Pakistan,” declared AIDLR’s representative and organizer Andy Vermaut in his introduction. “Muslim human rights activists, lawyers and judges in Pakistan have also been killed by the hand of Islamic extremists,” he added.

 

The panelists were

 

Paulo Casada, former MEP, Founder and executive director of the “South Asia Democratic Forum”.

 

Jürgen Klute, former MEP, Christian theologian.

 

Willy Fautré, Director, Human Rights Without Frontiers.

 

Manel Msalmi, International affairs Advisor of MEPs of the European Peoples’ Party at the European Parliament.

 

 

 

Presentation of HRWF’s director: EU member states deaf to calls for asylum from Christians in Pakistan

 

HRWF has a database of thousands of documented cases of FORB prisoners in the world, including 47 cases of believers of all faiths in Pakistan who are currently in jail on blasphemy charges often misused as personal settlements of scores: 26 Christians – 15 Sunni Muslims – 5 Ahmadis and 1 Shia Muslim.

 

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

1 case: a 6-year prison sentence

4 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 other EU member states but to no avail. She was finally welcome in Canada.

 

Another recent case of biased judgment in Pakistan denounced by EU institutions presents some similarities with Asia Bibi’s experience.

 

Parliamentary Question

 

On 10 February 2021, three members of the EP Intergroup on FORB – Peter van Dalen (EPP), Bert-Jan Ruissen (ECR), Joachim Kuhs (ID) – filed a written parliamentary question addressed to Josep Borrell, High Representative/ Vice President of the Commission, in which they raised the issue of a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, sentenced to death and being arbitrarily denied an appeal since 2014.

 

On 15 April 2021, the Vice-president of the Commission answered:

 

The Head of the EU Delegation in Pakistan and the EU Special Representative on Human Rights have already raised the case of Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar with Pakistani authorities at the highest levels.

 

EP Resolution

 

On 29 April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan, in particular the case of Shagufta Kausar, a caretaker in a Christian school, and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, partly paralyzed, 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

 

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;”

 

681 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of the resolution: only three MEPs opposed it.

 

It seems that the pressure exerted by the EU institutions was finally successful as the Christian couple who had spent eight years in prison was released a month and a half later, on 3 June 2021. They now live in hiding for their security as Asia Bibi had to do.

 

Looking for a safe haven in Europe

 

As Asia Bibi, they thought that the EP Resolutions highlighting their plight would facilitate their request for a visa to an EU member state as they urgently needed a safe haven for their own security. But the Christian couple 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, they have no job and no proof of income. The diplomatic missions could have proposed them an alternative process to get asylum but they did not.

 

As of the end July, the German embassy is the only one to have officially answered Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel but they said they could not be of any assistance:

“This possibility is narrowly limited to exceptional cases (“singular individual fates”) that are of particular exemplary political significance, e.g. 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 but 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 while what is required is action and not talk.

 

 

The GSP+ is at stake: Values first and Business second

 

Up to now Pakistan has ignored the repeated appeals of the UN, the EU institutions, the USA, the UK and other countries to ensure the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws.

In 2014, Pakistan entered the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) granting a number of commercial privileges, such as the access to the EU market without import duties if… human rights are respected.

Despite continuing violations of human rights, including religious freedom, the European Commission certifies that Pakistan remains eligible for the scheme.

In the 10 February 2021 written parliamentary question mentioned before, the three MEPs asked Josep Borrell, among other things,  if the VP/HR was “considering ending the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus preferences for Pakistan? If not, why not?”

Borrell first answered :

“the High Representative/Vice-President brought up the implementation of the 27 international conventions covered by the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) in the fifth EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister Qureshi on 3 November 2020. 

This included explicit concerns regarding the death penalty and misuse of blasphemy legislation. Most recently, the EU reiterated its messages in this regard to Pakistan, on 2 March 2021, in the Sub Group on Trade of the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission.”

He then put the emphasis on alleged progress in other human rights areas that are highly questionable as the extent of the related violations has not decreased since 2019:

“The 2018-2019 Report on the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) shows that Pakistan is making progress over time in areas such as the elimination of honour killings, the protection of transgender persons, and the protection of women’s and children’s rights. 

However, a number of shortcomings still remain. The report includes reducing the scope for the death penalty as one of the priority areas for action. The EU will continue to closely monitor, address and encourage further progress on these issues.”

and he concluded:

“A temporary withdrawal of GSP preferences would be a measure of last resort when all other actions fail.”

Concretely, it means that the suspension of the GSP+ is not on the agenda of the European Commission although numerous reports prove that the implementation of human rights in Pakistan has not made any substantial progress and has even regressed on a number of issues. In addition, the understanding and the interpretation of “when all actions fail” in Borrell’s answer can be easily abused for years to keep the GSP+ in place.

However, it would be an unfortunate missed opportunity for the EU to fail to show its teeth and to be at the spearhead of a robust initiative right now.

Indeed, on 2 December last, the State Department redesignated Pakistan as a CPC (Country of Particular Concern) under IRFA (International Religious Freedom Act) , but again issued a waiver on any related sanctions, “as required, in the ‘important national interest of the United States.’”

Pakistan can sleep on both ears if the EU fails to put its words and values into action.

Business first should be replaced on its agenda by Values first and Business second.

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website


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