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UK: Statement of MP Fiona Bruce about victims of acts of violence based on religion

Fiona Bruce: We need to act together to help victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief

Fiona Bruce MP is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

By Fiona Bruce MP

Conservatisme Home (22.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/2ULSmzP – Today marks the United Nation’s International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, states Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, committed to by the international community in 1948 following the Holocaust.

Sadly, however, acts of violence against people based on their religion or belief are by no means an issue of the past. Still today, in 2021, people around the world are subjected to such violence that will shape their lives for years to come.

Tragic events unfolding before our eyes in Afghanistan highlight this only too clearly. As the Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons this week, “we must live up to the best traditions of this country in playing our part in offering safe haven to those Afghans who are now fleeing persecution from the Taliban.”

Still today, close to 3,000 Yazidi women and children are missing after Daesh abducted them from Sinjar in August 2014. Many have been subjected to daily and unimaginable abuse for over seven years and there is no promise that this suffering will cease anytime soon. To this day, there are close to 10,000 Daesh fighters in Syria and Iraq waiting for the opportunity to strike again and attack the religious mosaic in both countries.

Still today, since 2017, over a million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities have been extra-judicially detained in “political re-education camps,” prevented from praying and observing religious practices; facing systematic restrictions on their culture; their places of worship destroyed.

Still today, religious minority women and girls, including from Christian, Sikh and Hindu communities, are abducted in Pakistan, subjected to forced conversions and forced marriages. Some as young as 12 – forced to be adults before their time.

Still today, men and women accused of blasphemy are sentenced to death by courts or attacked by mobs taking ‘justice’ in their own hands.

Still today, perpetrators of brutal acts of violence based on religion or belief enjoy impunity; their crimes rarely investigated; prosecutions do not follow. This sends the harrowing message that you can get away with your crimes, especially if you target religious or belief minorities.

There is much more the international community can do to address acts of violence based on religion or belief. As we mark today, we need to focus on joint action to help victims and survivors of such acts of violence, to hold perpetrators to account and to strengthen steps preventing such egregious acts of violence in the future.

Indeed, the Government has been actively working in this direction, in particular on our manifesto commitment to implement in full the Bishop of Truro’s Review recommendations, which seek to ensure that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) comprehensively responds to persecution based on religion or belief globally.

Plainly the UK can’t tackle this issue alone; to do so effectively requires international cooperation, as the Truro Review recommends. The Government is implementing these recommendations to ensure FCDO work is equipped to address the global challenges to freedom of religion or belief for all, and in its determination to be a force for good in the world.

The UK is also a founding member of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, a growing network of 33 countries fully committed to advancing freedom of religion or belief around the world. Together we identify areas for action and use our collective voice to highlight situations of concern of vulnerable communities – as we did recently, standing with people of all faiths and beliefs subjected to inhumane treatment in Myanmar.

The British Government has also engaged leaders of religion and belief to dismantle harmful misinterpretations of religious texts as part of its work to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. A founding document, the Declaration of Humanity, launched November 2020, has united 50 faith and belief leaders, governments and NGOs around the world in a call to prevent sexual violence in conflict and denounce the stigma faced by survivors, including children born of rape.

This year, the UK is funding projects led by faith and belief leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan that will enable communities affected by conflict-related sexual violence to develop action plans guided by the principles of the Declaration of Humanity.

However, we cannot assume that violent acts against people of faith occur only beyond our borders. In the past few days we have seen a “violent and unprovoked attack” at a cathedral in the UK, where a priest was hit with a glass bottle whilst he sat praying alone in a pew, and heard the shocking news of a woman, whilst speaking of her faith, being attacked with a knife at Speaker’s Corner.

Leaders of religion and belief must play their role in countering narratives which aim to justify such violence whenever and wherever it occurs – indeed this is a job for us all. So let’s mark this year’s International Day of Commemoration with a fresh resolution to strive together to make acts of violence based on religion or belief truly something of the past.

Photo : Fiona Bruce MP – Conservative Home

Further reading about FORB in United Kingdom 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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UK: At least 30 EU citizens denied entry and sent to removal centres

‘There were bars on the windows’: Meet the Italian detained in UK amid post-Brexit visa confusion

By Rachael Kennedy & Nadine Abdel-Hamid


Euronews (17.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/3uXEgYZ – In the arrivals hall at Heathrow airport, Giuseppe Pichierri waited for his cousin Marta to arrive.


With him was his four-year-old son, carrying a balloon and pictures he had painted to mark Marta’s arrival in London and first post-pandemic summer with her extended family.


But Marta never showed.


“They were waiting and waiting and waiting for her to come out,” Pichierri’s wife, Jennifer, recalled.


“The last message they got was in the queue when she was waiting to go through immigration. That was the last time they heard from her.”


As Pichierri and his son waited, Marta Lomartire, a 24-year-old Italian national, was being told by Britain’s Border Force that she could not enter the UK.


“I was glad I had arrived in England,” Marta told Euronews.


“I thought my first trip would be a nice opportunity and experience, but the result was completely different.”


Marta had travelled to London to learn English and to help look after the Picherris’s children while both parents went to work. Both are NHS workers: Jennifer is a nurse, Giuseppe a consultant microbiologist.


She had spent time putting together all the documentation that she was told she needed, but was later informed this wasn’t enough. She was taken to an office where she was questioned and had her bags searched.


Marta was then taken to a detention centre and put in a room that contained three beds and had bars on the windows. A secure door that led into the room was left open.


She had been told that she would be deported back to Italy the following day.


“I was allowed one phone call before my phone and my personal effects were taken,” she said.


‘There would be outrage if this was UK nationals’


Dozens of EU nationals have been stopped at the border in recent weeks due to misunderstandings about new entry requirements brought into force after Brexit.


These include citizens from Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania, Portugal, Bulgaria and Spain, travelling to the UK for job interviews or to take up summer employment.


The European Commission told Euronews it had raised the issue with the UK and other member states.


For European officials, the detention and deportation of EU nationals is “grossly disproportionate”.


“There would rightly be outrage if this was reciprocated for UK nationals,” said Dacian Ciolos, the president of Renew Europe, the EU’s liberal political group.


Meanwhile, the3million, a campaign organisation for EU citizens in the UK, told Euronews that far from being routine, detention and deportation should be a last resort.


“These draconian measures are also hugely worrying for EU citizens who are caught up in the huge backlog of settled status applications – many are concerned they might not be able to prove their right to be in the UK at the border,” the group said.


Araniya Kogulathas is a barrister and legal manager of the NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees, a charity that challenges immigration detention in the UK. She told Euronews that there is a lack of clarity about whether or not people need to apply for visas before entering the United Kingdom.


“If you look at the UK government’s website, you can access the immigration rules and they are very clear that you can attend job interviews or attend work conferences,” Kogulathas added that, “the nationals coming to do precisely those things are being detained at the border and being refused entry because they’re being told that they need to apply for work visas. There’s inconsistency and a lack of clarity, and it’s resulting in people being deprived that deprived of their liberty.”


Au pair


Marta’s family were concerned about changes due to Brexit prior to her arrival and said they had tried their very best to gather the correct visa information.


Jennifer said she had been assured by her local MP that Marta could enter the country for six months as an au pair.


“I honestly believed there must be a visa. He said there wasn’t anything,” she said.


“Italy, as far as I understood, had tried to come up with a reciprocal agreement.”


According to the UK government website, an au pair is not considered an employee if they meet the majority of conditions listed in a checklist.


These include stipulations such as having a signed letter of invitation from the host family, learning about British culture and language, and conducting 30 hours a week of light housework and childcare.


But the website also says that an au pair cannot work on a visitor visa if visiting the UK for six months or fewer.


The British Au Pair Agencies Association (BAPAA), which is referenced by the UK government, adds that hiring European au pairs without appropriate pre-settled status is now “illegal”.


It is also calling for urgent support for its campaign to reopen a specific route for au pairs – or face “a childcare crisis”.


Marta’s family say her experience was “an appalling way to treat anyone” – but that it is not an isolated case.


“This is the way the immigration services have been treating people for decades, but now it’s happening to Europeans,” Jennifer said.


“I feel a bit responsible being the British member of the family. When it first happened, we thought it must be a mistake. We thought we were unlucky and that it was a terrible error.


“We held our hands up, it was a genuine mistake. But it just got more and more surreal.”


It was 3 am by the time that Marta was taken to the detention centre, and when she arrived there she believed she had been taken to prison.


“The thing that sticks with me is that she’s our family member, our children love her and were looking forward to spending time with her; they spent the whole of last summer with her,” Jennifer said.


Responding to concerns about visa issues for au pairs, the UK’s Home Office has said: “EU citizens are our friends and neighbours and we want them to remain, which is why they have until 30 June to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme if they were resident in the UK before 31 December 2020.


“For those who were not resident before this date, as the public expects, we require evidence of an individual’s right to live and work in the UK.”


Back in Italy, Marta says it is only a 50/50 chance that she will try to go to the UK again.


“I am terrified because it was not a beautiful experience,” she said.


“I certainly did not feel welcomed, but I do not feel like absolutely excluding an opportunity there, at the moment, the idea of returning is a no.


“I know I have done absolutely nothing wrong. I also have my cousins there so I would just love to be able to go back to spend time with them.


“It was an experience that was supposed to be beautiful and was supposed to leave a beautiful memory. It turned into a very bad experience that left me with a little bit of sadness.”


Photo credits: Matthias Schrader/AP


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UK: Richard Dawkins loses ‘humanist of the year’ title over trans comments

American Humanist Association criticises academic for comments about identity using ‘the guise of scientific discourse’, and withdraws its 1996 honour


By Alison Flood


The Guardian (20.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/33ak8q5 – The American Humanist Association has withdrawn its humanist of the year award from Richard Dawkins, 25 years after he received the honour, criticising the academic and author for “demean[ing] marginalised groups” using “the guise of scientific discourse”.


The AHA honoured Dawkins, whose books include The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, in 1996 for his “significant contributions” in communicating scientific concepts to the public. On Monday, it announced that it was withdrawing the award, referring to a tweet sent by Dawkins earlier this month, in which he compared trans people to Rachel Dolezal, the civil rights activist who posed as a black woman for years.


“In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black,” wrote Dawkins on Twitter. “Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.”


Dawkins later responded to criticism, writing: “I do not intend to disparage trans people. I see that my academic ‘Discuss’ question has been misconstrued as such and I deplore this. It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue.”


Among his critics was Alison Gill, vice president for legal and policy at American Atheists and a trans woman. She said Dawkins’ comments reinforce dangerous and harmful narratives. She said: “Given the repercussions for the millions of trans people in this country, in this one life we have to live, as an atheist and as a trans woman, I hope that Professor Dawkins treats this issue with greater understanding and respect in the future.”


In 2015, Dawkins also wrote: “Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes. I call her “she” out of courtesy.”


In a statement from its board, the AHA said that Dawkins had “over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalised groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values”.


The evolutionary biologist’s latest comment, the board said, “implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient”, while his “subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity”.


“Consequently, the AHA Board has concluded that Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA, and has voted to withdraw, effective immediately, the 1996 Humanist of the Year award,” said the organisation.


The Guardian has reached out to Dawkins for comment.


Last year, the author JK Rowling returned an award given to her by the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation, after its president, Kennedy’s daughter Kerry Kennedy, criticised her views on transgender issues. “I am deeply saddened that RFKHR has felt compelled to adopt this stance, but no award or honour, no matter my admiration for the person for whom it was named, means so much to me that I would forfeit the right to follow the dictates of my own conscience,” said Rowling in a statement at the time.


Photo credits: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

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UK: Four-fifths of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, survey finds

Exclusive: YouGov poll reveals extent of abuse and lack of faith in authorities’ ability to deal with it


By Alexandra Topping


The Guardian (10.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/3shlz0W – A UN Women UK survey found 80% of women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.


More than four-fifths of young women in the UK have been subjected to sexual harassment, according to a survey for UN Women UK, which warns that most women have lost faith that the abuse will be dealt with.


Among women aged 18-24, 86% said they had been sexually harassed in public spaces, while just 3% did not recall ever having experienced sexually harassing behaviour. The remaining 11% chose not to answer the question.


According to the survey, published in a report by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for UN Women, 71% of women of any age said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.


“This is a human rights crisis. It’s just not enough for us to keep saying ‘this is too difficult a problem for us to solve’ – it needs addressing now,” said Claire Barnett, executive director of UN Women UK.


“We are looking at a situation where younger women are constantly modifying their behaviour in an attempt to avoid being objectified or attacked, and older women are reporting serious concerns about personal safety if they ever leave the house in the dark – even during the daytime in winter.”


The survey of more than 1,000 women, carried out by YouGov and seen exclusively by the Guardian, exposes a damning lack of faith in the UK authorities’ desire and ability to deal with sexual harassment – 96% of respondents did not report incidents, with 45% saying it would not change anything. Among those who said the event was not serious enough to report were women who had been groped, followed and coerced into sexual activity, said UN Women UK.


As part of the UN Women UK’s Safe Spaces Now project, the organisation collected stories from 400 women and sent an open letter to leaders, calling for better designed public spaces, improved reporting systems and education.


“We’ve seen really strong results elsewhere in the world. Our problem now is that sometimes in the UK, we think we are a leading light in terms of progress, and we forget to work on the gender-based violence that still happens every day at home, especially to women and marginalised groups,” said Barnett.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said women were recognising the abuse they faced as sexual harassment, but it was unsurprising they had no faith in an “utterly broken” system.


“If you talk about wolf-whistling or street harassment in the UK, you are liable to find yourself on the front page of a tabloid being called a ‘feminazi’ and accused of overreacting, so of course young women don’t think that they’ll be taken seriously if they come forward,” she said.


Bates pointed to TUC/Everyday Sexism research that found 52% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work, and of the one in five who had reported it, three-quarters said nothing had changed, while 16% said they were treated worse as a result.


“At the root of all this is the normalisation of the idea that a woman’s body in a public place is simply public property and young women just have to put up with it. We have to shatter that normalisation through policy and in the press if we want to change the picture,” she said.


Note: This article was amended on 24 March 2021. Due to incorrect information supplied to us, an earlier version said the UN Women UK survey found that 97% of women aged 18-24 had reported being sexually harassed in public spaces, and 80% of all women; these figures are actually 86% and 71% respectively. The headline has also been amended to reflect this updated text.


Photo credits: Montgomery Martin/Alamy



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