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COVID-19: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea: White Paper II

– Massimo Introvigne, Center for Studies on New Religions,
Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers,
Rosita Šorytė, European Federation for Freedom of Belief,
Alessandro Amicarelli, European Federation for Freedom of Belief (president),
Marco Respinti, journalist

A White Paper by CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions, Torino, Italy – HRWF (Human Rights Without Frontiers, Brussels, Belgium)

Full Report: https://www.cesnur.org/2020/shincheonji-second-white-paper.htm

1. 1. It Is About COVID-19… or Is It?

Why This Report

The name of Shincheonji (a name meaning “New Heaven and New Earth”), Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (in short, Shincheonji) was known in the West only to a few scholars of new religious movements before February 2020, when the church was accused of being largely responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in South Korea.

In March 2020, the authors published a first White Paper (Introvigne, Fautré, Šorytė, Amicarelli and Respinti 2020) distinguishing facts from fiction in the accusations against Shincheonji. The repression of Shincheonji in South Korea has now escalated to what can be described, without exaggeration, as an attempt to suppress a religion, close its places of worship, arrest its leaders, and scare members so that they will leave the movement out of fear of losing their jobs. A second White Paper, dealing with the persecution, is thus necessary. We will, however, summarize in this introduction some essential points about Shincheonji discussed in the first White Paper, and add some further general comments.

What Is Shincheonji?

Why is Shincheonji Persecuted?

Is It Really About Covid-19?

2.Is Shincheonji “Responsible” for the Virus Outbreak in Daegu?

Patient 31

The Alleged Wuhan Connection

The Case of the Cheongdo Daenam Hospital

Did Shincheonji Create the Outbreak in Daegu?

3. Did Shincheonji Refuse to Cooperate with the Authorities?

Shincheonji Stopped Services Immediately

Why Are Leaders Prosecuted?

Legal Background

Which Lists?

4. A Disproportionate Reaction

Mistakes Punished As Crimes

Disproportionate Measures

Private Vigilantism

Conclusions

References

READ THE WHOLE WHITE PAPER: https://www.cesnur.org/2020/shincheonji-second-white-paper.htm





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Uzbekistan must stay on the path of religious freedom reform

Tashkent has made progress on the path toward greater religious freedom but must remain vigilant to protect the gains it has made and continue to actively push forward.

 

By Nadine Maenza and Nury Turkel

Credit: Catherine Putz

The Diplomat (09.07.2020) – https://bit.ly/32h4Tg5 – For many years, Uzbekistan presented a bleak picture in a region notorious for poor human rights conditions. Under the country’s late authoritarian leader, Islam Karimov, the government relentlessly repressed all independent religious activity that it did not expressly sanction. In one particularly infamous incident documented in 2002, the bodies of two religious prisoners held at Jasliq Prison — also called the “House of Torture” — were returned to their families with evidence of torture indicating that at least one of them may have been boiled alive. A decade later, a popular imam who fled Uzbekistan and received asylum in Sweden barely survived an assassination attempt that many believed was orchestrated by the government.

Karimov’s death in 2016 brought to power his long-time prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has proven himself inclined to reform and committed to improving Uzbekistan’s international image. Among his administration’s efforts to implement reform on a number of fronts, its focus and engagement on religious freedom concerns have been a welcome, if slow, reversal of a long-standing official policy of persecution.

The government’s initial move to delist thousands of individuals from its blacklist of potential “religious extremists,” and its decision to invite the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, to visit the country in late 2017, were groundbreaking first steps in the right direction. The government’s adoption of a “road map” in response to Shaheed’s recommendations the following year was a promising sign of its commitment as well.

For 15 consecutive years, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the U.S. State Department designate Uzbekistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for its “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”

But, on April 28, USCIRF for the first time recommended Uzbekistan for the Special Watch List (SWL) in recognition of the progress made, and, crucially, in expectation of continued reform in the year ahead.

Although the State Department had opted to remove Uzbekistan from its list of most egregious religious freedom violators earlier, in late 2018, USCIRF did not recommend the State Department do so until this spring.

It is imperative that Uzbekistan continue on its chosen path of reform to provide and protect the rights of all its people to practice their religion or beliefs. Its expected adoption of a revised Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations would be a welcome next step in its efforts to provide all the conditions for true religious freedom.

Over the course of the last year, we have seen Uzbekistan take real, concrete action to substantially improve and increase the space for religious freedom throughout the country. When a USCIRF delegation visited Uzbekistan last year, many diverse religious faiths and communities shared that the situation had truly changed for the better.

USCIRF’s 2020 Annual Report highlighted the government’s directive to law enforcement authorities and police to cease raids on religious groups and the announced closure of Jasliq Prison as some of the most significant positive developments of 2019.

However, although notable progress has been made, much remains to be done.

Of particular concern are the reported thousands of peaceful Muslims whom Uzbekistan continues to imprison on vague or spurious charges of “religious extremism.” While there have been some prisoner releases, the government should fully review the cases of all individuals imprisoned under such charges as well as release, rehabilitate, and exonerate those held as political and religious prisoners.

Uzbekistan should also ensure that its approach and advancement of freedom of religion or belief is comprehensive and inclusive of all its religious communities, including Muslims. The government’s reluctance to extend fundamental rights to all Muslims, and particularly those who choose to exercise or publicly express their beliefs by growing a beard or wearing a hijab, is contrary to its commitment to international human rights standards. As Uzbekistan moves forward with plans to overhaul its religion law, it should minimize mandatory registration requirements as much as possible, and set aside inordinate and stifling bans on proselytism, missionary activity, and the private teaching of religion.N

Finally, Uzbekistan must remain vigilant to protect the gains it has made, continue to actively push forward reforms to its legal framework regarding religion — such as fulfilling its pledge to revise the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations — and avoid any backsliding.

Nadine Maenza is a Commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by President Donald Trump.

Nury Turkel is a Commissioner on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.





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Uzbekistan: HRWF urges President Mirziyoyev to release 26 Muslim prisoners

HRWF has just published a 29-page report about Sunni Muslims in prison for their faith in five Asian countries[1]

 

HRWF (15.07.2020) – Human Rights Without Frontiers urges President Mirziyoyev to release 26 Muslim prisoners who are serving lengthy prison sentences. Most of them were tried under President Karimov after being accused of alleged separatism, extremism, planning to overthrow the government and/or belonging to a banned Islamist movement. However, they are not known to have committed acts of violence and there were serious concerns that under President Karimov these charges were fabricated.[2]

 

List of 26 Muslim prisoners: See their documented cases in HRWF Database of FoRB Prisoners[3]: https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/

AKHMEDOV, Mansurkhon
FAYZIYEV,  Davron Yuldashevich
INAGAMOV,  Khusnuddin Abdukhakimovich
KAMILOV,  Dilshod Khikmatullayevich
KASYMOV, Alisher
KHASANOV,  Sobirjon Sotvoldiyevich
KHUDAIBERDIYEV, Bakhtiyor
KODYROV, Muhammad
KOMOLIDDINOV, Davron
KURBONOV, Botyraly
MIRZAYEV,  Ravshan Mukhamadovich
MURTAZOYEV, Ubaydulla
RASHIDOV,  Abdurashid Abdulkhayevich
RASULOV, Akmaljon
RIZAYEV,  Khusnuddin Tokhtamurodovich
SADYKOV,  Bakhadyr Bakhtiyarovich
SADYKOV,  Ravshan Bakhtiyarovich
TURABAYEV, Rakhmonzhon
TURDIBOYEV, Jonibek
TURSUNOV, Bakhtiyor
TURSUNOV, Khayrullo
UMARBAYEV, Ravshanbek
URUNOV,  Afzaljon Azatovich
YUSUPOV, Latip Talipovich
YULDASHEV, Mirjamol
ZOKIROV, Shakhzodjon

Sunnis behind bars: some statistics

As of 1 June 2020, HRWF documented 26 cases of Sunni Muslims in its Prisoners’ Database.[4] 19 of these individuals were arrested and detained before 2017 and are serving prison sentences that range from five to sixteen years. Four Sunni Muslims were detained in 2019 and three have been imprisoned so far in 2020.

 

In 2019, there were 38 cases recorded in HRWF’s database. There were ten more cases in 2018. Between late August and early September 2018, the authorities arrested many bloggers criticising the lack of religious freedom in an attempt to stop public discussions on such issues. At least eight of them were jailed for two weeks.[5] Some Sunni imams were also prosecuted for criticising the state controlled Muftiate and the ban on the wearing of hijabs in schools.

 

Articles of the Penal Code

Prisoners are typically charged under these articles of the Uzbekistani Criminal Code:

 

Article 156, Part 2 which includes ‘deliberate acts intended to humiliate ethnic honour and dignity, insult the religious or atheistic feelings of individuals, carried out with the purpose of inciting hatred, intolerance, or divisions on a national, ethnic, racial, or religious basis, as well as the explicit or implicit limitation of rights or preferences on the basis of national, racial, or ethnic origin, or religious beliefs’.

 

Article 159 which is ‘attempts to change the Constitutional order’, including acts of violence. It is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

 

Article 244-1, Part 1 which is ‘the production, storage, distribution or display of materials containing a threat to public security and public order’. Part 2 is the ‘dissemination of materials containing ideas of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism, calls for pogroms or violent eviction, or aimed at creating panic among the population, as well as the use of religion for purposes of breach of civil concord, dissemination of calumnious and destabilising fabrications, and committing other acts aimed against the established rules of conduct in society and public order’. Part 3 (a) specifies when these acts are premeditated or by a group of people, Part 3 (b) specifies when they are committed by officials, and Part 3 (c) specifies when they have received ‘financial or other material aid from religious organisations, as well as foreign states, organisations, and citizens’.

 

Article 244-2, Part 1 which is the ‘creation, leadership or participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organisations’.

 

Article 246, Part 1 which includes ‘smuggling, that is carriage through the customs border – without the knowledge of or with concealment from customs control – materials that propagandise religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism’. It is punishable by between 10 to 20 years in prison.[6]

 

Additionally, Sunnis may be charged under these articles of the Uzbekistani Code of Administrative Offences:

 

Article 240, Part 1 which includes the ‘carrying out of unauthorised religious activity, evasion by leaders of religious organisations of registration of the charter of the organisation, and the organisation and conduct of special children’s and youth meetings, as well as vocational, literature and other study groups not relating to worship’. Individuals found in violation of this article may be jailed for up to 15 days or required to pay fines that are 50 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage.

 

Article 241 includes ‘teaching religious beliefs without specialised religious education and without permission from the central organ of a [registered] religious organisation, as well as teaching religious beliefs privately’. Individuals found in violation of this article may be jailed for up to 15 days or required to pay fines that are 50 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage.[7]

 

International advocacy

On 22 February 2018, the Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his mission to Uzbekistan was presented to the UN General Assembly. In this report, the Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, shared findings from his mission in October 2017, which included:

 

  1. The number of detainees imprisoned on vague charges relating to ‘religious extremism’, ‘anti-constitutional’ activity or membership in an ‘illegal religious group’ — also known as ‘religious detainees’ — is unconfirmed. The estimate ranges between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals[8], while the official data is unknown. Thousands of Muslims have allegedly been imprisoned on accusations of belonging to terrorist, extremist or banned organizations or exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. It is hard to know whether those detainees were indeed involved in violence or other crimes or whether they were only ‘guilty’ of taking their faith seriously.[9]

 

In February 2019, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells visited Uzbekistan. She raised concerns about religious freedom issues and specifically cited the release of prisoners of conscience as a positive step the government could take.[10]

 

The US State Department removed Uzbekistan from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) and placed it on its Special Watch List (SWL) for the first time in December 2018. It did so again in November 2019. Before this, Uzbekistan was designated as a CPC due to egregious violations of religious freedom.

 

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2020 Annual Report recommended that the US State Department keep Uzbekistan on the Special Watch List.[11]

Footnotes:

[1] Those five countries are: China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

[2] Mushfig, Bayram, “UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey September 2017,” Forum 18, September 11, 2019, accessed May 2020. http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314.

[3] There is often much confusion around the concept of the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in respect to the identification of groups and persons who are victims of FoRB violations.

For HRWF, a FoRB prisoner is someone whose rights, protected by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[3] and Article 6 of the 1981 UN Declaration of the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, were violated by state institutions. Not more and not less.

For more details about the distinctions between FoRB prisoners from religious prisoners of conscience, FoRB defenders and human rights defenders, see HRWF’s latest report “In Prison for their Faith 2020”/ Foreword & Introduction (https://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-annual-reports/) published online in July 2020.

[4] Our Database is updated on a regular basis. For more details about imprisoned Sunni Muslims, see https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/.

[5] Mushfig, Bayram, “UZBEKISTAN: Jailings ‘to intimidate all who speaks about freedoms’,” Forum 18, September 20, 2018, accessed May 2020. http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2416.

[6] Mushfig, Bayram, “UZBEKISTAN: Religious freedom survey September 2017,” Forum 18, September 11 2019, accessed May 2020. http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2314.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The statistics mentioned by the Special Rapporteur were not supported by any identifiable source and the government of Uzbekistan fiercely denied such figures in its comments sent to the Special Rapporteur. However, USCIRF 2020 Annual Report was quoted as saying ‘Estimates from international and local human rights organizations generally range from 1,500 to 5,000 prisoners. According to human rights activists in Uzbekistan, many of the remaining religious prisoners were sentenced in connection with real or fabricated membership in the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Uzbekistan’. See United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report, USCIRF-Recommended for countries of particular concern: Uzbekistan 2020, 2020. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Uzbekistan.pdf.

[9] Shaheed, Ahmed, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief on his mission to Uzbekistan, United Nations, 2018. https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1481445?ln=en#record-files-collapse-header.

[10] ‘Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells Travels to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan,’ U.S. Department of State, February 24, 2019. https://www.state.gov/principal-deputy-assistant-secretary-for-south-and-central-asian-affairs-alice-wells-travels-to-kyrgyzstan-and-uzbekistan/.

[11] United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report, USCIRF-Recommended for countries of particular concern: Uzbekistan 2020, 2020. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Uzbekistan.pdf.





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U.N. experts call call for decisive measures to protect fundamental freedoms in China

– U.N. (26.06.2020) – UN independent experts have repeatedly communicated with the Government of the People’s Republic of China their alarm regarding the repression of fundamental freedoms in China. They have denounced the repression of protest and democracy advocacy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), impunity for excessive use of force by police, the alleged use of chemical agents against protesters, the alleged sexual harassment and assault of women protesters in police stations and the alleged harassment of health care workers.

 

They have also raised their concerns regarding a range of issues of grave concern, from the collective repression of the population, especially religious and ethnic minorities, in Xinjiang and Tibet, to the detention of lawyers and prosecution and disappearances of human rights defenders across the country, allegations of forced labour in various sectors of the formal and the informal economy, as well as arbitrary interferences with the right to privacy, to cybersecurity laws that authorise censorship and the broadly worrying anti-terrorism and sedition laws applicable in Hong Kong. They have expressed concerns that journalists, medical workers and those exercising their right to free speech online in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic have allegedly faced retaliation from the authorities, including many being charged with ‘spreading misinformation’ or ‘disrupting public order’.

 

Most recently, the National People’s Congress took a decision to draft a national security law for the Hong Kong SAR – without any meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong – which would, if adopted, violate China’s international legal obligations and impose severe restrictions on civil and political rights in the autonomous region. The national security law would introduce poorly defined crimes that would easily be subject to abuse and repression, including at the hands of China’s national security organs, which for the first time would be enabled to establish ‘agencies’ in Hong Kong ‘when needed’.

 

The draft law would deprive the people of Hong Kong, who constitute a minority with their own distinctive history, cultural and linguistic and even legal traditions, the autonomy and fundamental rights guaranteed them under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ governance framework. It would undermine the right to a fair trial and presage a sharp rise in arbitrary detention and prosecution of peaceful human rights defenders at the behest of Chinese authorities. The national security law would also undermine the ability of businesses operating in Hong Kong to discharge their responsibility to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

 

The independent experts urge the Government of China to abide by its international legal obligations, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and withdraw the draft national security law for Hong Kong.

 

The UN independent experts believe it is time for renewed attention on the human rights situation in the country, particularly in light of the moves against the people of the Hong Kong SAR, minorities of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the Tibet Autonomous Region, and human rights defenders across the country.

 

The independent experts acknowledge that the Government of China has responded to the communications of UN independent experts, if almost always to reject criticism.

However, unlike over 120 States, the Government of China has not issued a standing invitation to UN independent experts to conduct official visits. In the last decade, despite many requests by Special Procedures, the Government has permitted only five visits by independent experts (pertaining to rights involving food, discrimination against women and girls, foreign debt, extreme poverty and older persons).

 

Keeping in mind China’s obligations under international human rights law, and the obligation to adhere to the ICCPR with respect to the Hong Kong SAR, and in view of the UN Human Rights Council’s prevention mandate to act on the root causes of crises which may lead to human rights emergencies or undermine peace and security, the UN experts call on the international community to act collectively and decisively to ensure China respects human rights and abides by its international obligations.

 

The independent experts urge the Government of China to invite mandate-holders, including those with a mandate to monitor civil and political rights, to conduct independent missions and to permit those visits to take place in an environment of confidentiality, respect for human rights defenders, and full avoidance of reprisals against those with whom mandate-holders may meet.

 

They further urge the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to act with a sense of urgency to take all appropriate measures to monitor Chinese human rights practices. Measures available to the Council and Member States include but need not be limited to the possibility of:

 

  • A special session to evaluate the range of violations indicated in this statement and generally;
  • The establishment of an impartial and independent United Nations mechanism – such as a United Nations Special Rapporteur, a Panel of Experts appointed by the HRC, or a Secretary General Special Envoy – to closely monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China, particularly, in view of the urgency of the situations in the Hong Kong SAR, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the Tibet Autonomous Region; and
  • All Member States and UN agencies in their dialogues and exchanges with China specifically demanding that China fulfills its human rights obligations, including with respect to the issues identified in this statement.”

 

 

* The experts: Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule,Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and association; Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai (Chair), Dante Pesce, Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair), Working Group on Business and Human Rights; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism; Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Mr. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes;Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Kombou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons especially women and children; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Members of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Luciano Hazan (Chair), Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Vice Chair), Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Ms. Houria Es-Slami, and Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius; Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children; The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination: Mr. Chris Kwaja (Chair), Ms. Jelena Aparac, Ms. Lilian Bobea, Ms. Sorcha MacLeod and Mr. Saeed Mokbil; Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls: Ms. Elizabeth Broderick (Chair),Ms. Alda Facio, Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane, Ms. Ivana Radačić, andMs. Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair); Mr. Joe Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

 





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Eritrea: Orthodox Christians in prison

– HRWF (19.06.2020) – Despite state recognition, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and its Patriarch have been heavily persecuted since Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1991.[1] The newly independent government wanted a national Orthodox Church separate from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and so asked Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria for Eritrean Orthodoxy autocephaly.[2]
In 2004, Abune Antonios was elected as Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. He opposed the government’s interference in the affairs of the church and objected its confiscation of church properties, hijacking of church offerings, expropriation of tithes and pressuring priests and deacons to military services. The government deposed him, put him under house arrest in 2006 and appointed a new, more obedient, Patriarch.
This context explains the persecution of Abune ANtonios and those who are faithful to him.
Orthodox Christians behind bars: some statistics
As of 1 April 2020, HRWF documented four cases of Eritrean Orthodox Christians in its Prisoners’ Database.[3] Three of these individuals are in maximum-security detention centres and one is under house arrest, Patriarch Abune Antonios. Before their arrest, these members occupied high level positions within Eritrea, until they were arrested for involvement in the renewal movement of the Orthodox Church. The number of cases documented by HRWF has not changed over the last couple of years.
Articles of the Penal Code
Quite often believers of all faiths are arrested and imprisoned without any formal charges, trial or conviction.
International advocacy
On 6 July 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the cases of Abune Antonios and Dawit Isaak. The resolution stated that:
Abune Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the nation’s largest religious community, has been in detention since 2007, having refused to excommunicate 3000 parishioners who opposed the government […] since then, he has been held in an unknown location where he has been denied medical care.
The European Parliament called ‘on the Eritrean Government to release Abune Antonios, allow him to return to his position as Patriarch, and cease its interference in peaceful religious practices in the country’. Additionally, it reiterated ‘that freedom of religion is a fundamental right, and strongly condemned any violence or discrimination on grounds of religion’.[4]
In its 2018 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its concern for the continuation of religious repression in the country and highlighted the domination of the government in the internal affairs of the four recognised religious communities, including the Orthodox Church of Eritrea. USCIRF determined that Eritrea merited designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. USCIRF has designated Eritrea as a CPC since 2004.[5]
On 21 June 2019, the UN Human Rights Council issued a press release by Special Rapporteur Daniela Kravetz about human rights in Eritrea, especially the government’s crackdowns on various religious communities. Concerning the arrest of Orthodox believers, she said that on 13 June 2019 that ‘security forces arrested five Orthodox priests from the Debre Bizen monastery. The priests ‑ three over 70 years old ‑ were allegedly arrested for opposing the government’s interference in the affairs of the Church’.[6] She also pressed the government to ‘release those who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs’.[7]
As of 15 June 2020, there were 63 FoRB prisoners in Eritrea in HRWF’s Prisoners’ Database
Jehovah’s Witnesses: 55
Coptic Orthodox: 4
Protestants: 4
See details of these documented cases at https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/
[1] “Eritrean War of Independence,” New World Encyclopedia, accessed June,
[2] Stefon, Matt, “Shenouda III,” Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., March 13, 2020.
[3] Our Database is updated on a regular basis. For more details about imprisoned Orthodox Christians, see https://hrwf.eu/prisoners-database/.
[4] European Parliament, Resolution on Eritrea, notably the cases of Abune Antonios and Dawit Isaak (2017/2755(RSP)) July 6, 2017. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2017-0309_EN.html.
[5]  United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Annual Report, USCIRF-
Recommended countries of particular concern: Eritrea 2018, 2018. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/Tier1_ERITREA.pdf.
[6] “UN Expert Urges Eritrea to Allow Religious Institutions to Operate Freely and Respect
the Right of Freedom of Religion,” OHCHR, June 21, 2019.
[7] “Crackdown on Christians in Eritrea Spurs UN Expert to Press Government ‘to Live up to
Its International Commitments’ UN News,” United Nations, June 21, 2019.

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