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WORLD: ‘Break the silence on persecuted Christians’ (European Parliament)

WORLD: ‘Break the silence on persecuted Christians’

A conference and an exhibition held by MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen in the European Parliament denounces the silence and the impunity surrounding the suffering of Christians around the world

Conference at the European Parliament about the persecution of Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa (Credit: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen)

Exhibition at the European Parliament about the persecution of Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa (Credit: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen)

HRWF (21.09.2023) – “The EU must take stronger action against the blatant violations of freedom of religion, which mostly affect Christians worldwide. This silence costs thousands of lives every year, especially in Africa. This deadly silence must be broken,” MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen advocated on Monday 19 September at a conference and opening of an exhibition in the European Parliament.


The event attended by over a hundred people was followed by the visit of an exhibition in the heart of the European Parliament, organised together with Open Doors and SDOK (Foundation of the Underground Church). It showed shocking photos of victims of Christian persecution: among others, a photo of a Chinese believer who was hung by the police with his legs from a horizontal pole, now adorns the heart of the European Parliament.

Bert-Jan Ruissen: “Freedom of religion is a universal human right. The EU claims to be a community of values but is now too often silent on serious violations. The thousands of victims and families must be able to rely on EU action. As an economic power bloc, we must hold all countries accountable that all believers are free to practice their religion.”


Ruissen pointed out that 10 years ago now, the EU adopted directives to protect freedom of religion. “These directives are too much on paper and too little in practice. The EU has a moral duty to credibly protect this freedom.”


Anastasia Hartman, advocacy officer at Open Doors in Brussels: “As we want to strengthen sub-Saharan Christians, we also want them to become part of a solution to the complex regional crisis. Enforcing freedom of belief should be high on the agenda, because when both Christians and non-Christians see their fundamental freedoms protected, they can become a blessing for the whole community.”


Bonus for killing a pastor

Nigerian student Ishaku Dawa recounted the horrors of the Islamist terrorist organisation Boko Haram: “In my region, 30 pastors have already been killed. Pastors are outlaws: the death of a pastor brings a bounty of the equivalent of 2,500 euros. One victim I knew personally “, the VU Amsterdam student said. “Think of the kidnapped schoolgirls in 2014: they were targeted because they came from a Christian school.”


Also speaking at the conference was Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ Senior Analyst on freedom of faith in Sub-Saharan Africa. He called for more international engagement.


Jelle Creemers, director of the Institute for the Study of Freedom of Religion or Belief at the Evangelical Theological Faculty (ETF) Leuven, said, “An EU policy that promotes freedom of religion is not only about individual freedoms but also helps fight injustice, actively supports threatened communities and is a foundation on which people can flourish. I hope this exhibition helps to remind us of the need and importance of this commitment.”


Further reading about FORB in the World on HRWF website

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EU: The EU Guidelines on FORB discussed at the European Parliament

EU: The EU Guidelines on FORB discussed at the plenary session of the European Parliament

MEPs tell EU Commissioner Věra Jourová that actions to protect religious freedom are far from enough
MEPs Hölvényi and Bert-Jan Ruissen tell EU Commissioner Jourova that actions to protect religious freedom are far from enough


The European Times (13.07.2023) – This Friday afternoon, the plenary session of the European Parliament addressed the issue of the EU involvement in the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU. The participants included Commissioner Věra Jourová and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).


Věra Jourová speaks at a debate on implementation of EU guidelines on FoRB

Commissioner Jourová, who is responsible for values and transparency, presented the views and actions of the Commission in this regard, highlighting the importance of respecting and promoting religious freedom. She emphasized that the EU is committed to protecting the rights of individuals to practice their religion freely and without discrimination. MEPs from various political groups took part in the debate and shared their perspectives on the issue. The most critical ones for the lack of proper action were MEP György Hölvényi and MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen.

Others emphasized the importance of dialogue and cooperation in promoting religious freedom both within the EU and externally. They highlighted the need to engage with religious communities and civil society organizations to address religious discrimination and intolerance.

György Hölvényi: “since 2021, people have been killed or kidnapped in 40 countries of the world because of their faith”

The free exercise of religion is primarily a human rights issue. Unfortunately, as the majority of EU decision-makers do not recognize the importance of this fundamental right for individuals and society, stated György Hölvényi, Christian Democrat MEP in the European Parliament’s debate on Thursday, organized on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The vice-president of KDNP Hungary and Member of the European Parliament, reminded, various reports, scientific researches and field experiences show that we live in a time of unprecedented religious intolerance globally. About 84% of the world’s population identifies with some religious community. Meanwhile, since 2021, people have been killed or kidnapped in 40 countries of the world because of their faith. We have to underline that the most persecuted religion in the world today is Christianity. During the last year, according to international surveys, 5,621 Christians were killed because of their faith, 90% of the murders took place in Nigeria.

According to the EPP Group’s politician, the EU is struggling with a serious credibility problem: despite the dramatic situation, the protection of religious freedom is still not fully part of the EU’s external action. Despite the increasing persecution, the European Commission, for example, hesitated for three years to re-appoint the EU Special Envoy responsible for religious freedom outside the EU.

Real milestones are needed in the dialogue with religious communities active in the EU and in third countries. Although the legal framework is in place, no structural dialogue actually takes place before substantive EU decisions are made. MEP György Hölvényi pointed out that the joint action against increasing religious intolerance around the world cannot be delayed any longer.

Bert-Jan Ruissen: “EU actions on religious freedom must finally get off the ground

The SGP wants the EU to finally take real action on religious freedom. The EU guidelines on freedom of religion have been in existence for 10 years now but have barely been put into practice.

That we have these guidelines is of course a good thing. But I have serious doubts about the implementation there,” Bert-Jan Ruissen (SGP) said Thursday in an MEP debate he had requested.

In 10 years, the European Commission has never presented the promised reports or held consultations. The position of EU Envoy for Religious Freedom remained vacant for 3 years and support has always been very minimal.

More really needs to be done, because religious persecution is only increasing worldwide,” Ruissen said. “Look at a country like Nigeria, where 50,000 Christians have been killed in the last 20 years because of their faith. Or look at the Indian state of Manipur where many churches have been destroyed and Christians killed this spring.”

On Thursday, the SGP therefore made three concrete requests to the European Commission:

1) Come up with a solid implementation report of the guidelines in the short term.

2) Give the EU Envoy for Religious Freedom a permanent mandate and provide additional staff so that he can do his job properly.

3) Come up with proposals to designate June 24, the date on which the guidelines were adopted, as the European Day for Combating Religious Persecution.

We cannot leave the oppressed Church with millions of believers out in the cold,” Ruissen concluded. “I hope and pray that it does not drag on for another 10 years!”

Further reading about FORB in the EU on HRWF website

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NORTH KOREA: European Parliament resolution about religious persecution

The European Parliament adopts a resolution about the persecution of religious minorities

Interview of MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (ECR Group/ Netherlands)

The European Times (14.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3KLPCHw



The European Times: Mr Ruissen, on 30 March, you organized a conference about religious freedom in North Korea at the European Parliament. Why such an event now?


We have been in touch with the London-based NGO Korea Future in the autumn of 2021 and during our talks we discussed Korea Future’s new Report on religious freedom in North Korea.   The idea was raised to bring this report under the attention of a greater public in Brussels through a conference in the European Parliament in March 2022. Not much attention has been paid to the situation of religious freedom in the DPRK since years, so the release of the new report was for us a good occasion to put the issue on the agenda again.


The European Times: On 7 April, the European Parliament adopted a resolution about the human rights situation, including the persecution of religious minorities. Why are Christians considered “enemies of the state” and what are the consequences of such an infamous label?


According to the report, DPRK’s Ministry of State Security proactively gathers information on perceived threats to North Korea’s political system, with a focus on those of domestic origin, which includes Christians. The hard core of Kim-dynasty’s policy is the total submission to and the unconditional glorification of the ‘ divine’ Kim Jong Un (as well as his late father and late grandfather). Christians obey the King of Heaven and do not want to be involved in the divine glorification of an earthly atheist leader. They are therefore accused of undermining the political system and being an existential threat to it. The authorities persecuted religious believers on a variety of charges, including religious practice, religious activities in China, possessing religious items such as Bibles, contact with religious persons, attending religious services, and sharing religious beliefs. Christians and other religious adherents reportedly suffered from arbitrary surveillance, interrogation, arrest, detention, and imprisonment, punishment of family members, torture, sexual violence, forced labor and execution. For more information I would like to refer to the aforementioned report.


Question: What are the main features of religious persecution that were highlighted by the resolution?


The resolution states that the DPRK regime is systematically targeting religious beliefs and minorities, including Shamanism, Korean Buddhism, Catholicism, Cheondoism and Protestantism.  Examples of such systematic targeting include the execution of some non-foreign Catholic priests and Protestant leaders who did not renounce their faith and being purged as ‘American spies’. The resolution also refers to the songbun system (the nation’s surveillance/security system), according to which religious practitioners belong to the ‘hostile’ class and are considered enemies of the state, deserving ‘discrimination, punishment, isolation, and even execution’. The text mentions that documentation from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) shows that followers of Shamanism and Christianity are especially vulnerable to persecution. It also stresses that there have been reports on the severe repression of people involved in public and private religious activities, including arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture, forced labor and execution and that kwanliso (political prison camps) remain operational because they are fundamental to the control and repression of the population.


The resolution condemns the severe restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, information, peaceful assembly and association, as well as discrimination based on the songbun system, which classifies people on the basis of state-assigned social class and birth, and also includes consideration of political opinions and religion. The parliament is deeply concerned about the systematic violations of freedom of religion and belief affecting Shamanism and Christianity as well as other religions in North Korea. It denounces the arbitrary arrests, long-term detention, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence against and killings of religious people and urges the DPRK authorities to cease all violence against religious minorities and to grant them the right of freedom of religion and belief, the right of association and the right of freedom of expression. It further stresses the need to hold the perpetrators of these violent acts to account, including the Ministry of People’s Social Security and the Ministry of State Security which are instrumental in the persecution of religious communities;


Question: Pyongyang denied having been affected by the COVID. What is known about the impact of the pandemic in North Korea?


Given the closed nature of the country little is known about the actual prevalence of Covid-19 in the DPRK, with a government denying the presence of the virus in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has however been used by the DPRK to further isolate the country from the outside world, resulting in exacerbated entrenched human rights violations and a negative impact on its people’s health. The DPRK has closed its borders to all external crossings to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and has not distributed any COVID-19 vaccines to its people



Question: What should be done to improve the human rights situation in North Korea?


On 22 March 2022, the EU imposed asset freezes and a travel ban under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime on two individuals and one entity in the DPRK. It is remarkable that in a country with so many reported human rights violations, so little people are being sanctioned. This is probably partially due to the closed nature of the country with limited to no access to foreign organizations. It is important to hold all perpetrators of grave human rights violations to account for their deeds, including their sanctioning, to pursue efforts to refer the situation in the DPRK to the International Criminal Court. Before that can happen, it is very important to collect evidence and documentation of gross human rights violations. It is therefore very important that the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea, humanitarian organizations, and civil society get access to the country. The resolution also encourages the EU and the Member States to develop a strategy complementing the EU’s sanctions regime and taking into account the resumption of the political dialogue with North Korea (stalled since 2015) when the time is ripe, with a view to integrating human rights, denuclearisation and peace initiatives into its engagement with the DPRK.

Photo: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (ECR Group/ Netherlands)


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