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Religious Freedom: Stories of distant and forgotten conflicts, stories of the believers of a “Lesser God”

By MEP Carlo Fidanza

 

The European Times (12.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3jz1rVp – Ever since the eyes of the world have turned to the conflict in Ukraine, it is difficult to speak of religious freedom.

 

First the covid, and then the war have hidden the minor but no less serious tragedies that are perpetuated in the rest of the globe, the suffering that continues to be perpetrated at the expense of the weakest.

 

For a moment we realized what the state of the art on religious freedom was, when last summer NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan, and suddenly we were plunged back into a dark time of segregation and discrimination. A time of persecution against those whose only fault is that they believe in their own God or because of their own being.

 

We realized that in certain parts of the world, being a woman or being a Christian, is still a guilt. This for example is the story of Zabi, whose story was told to us by the NGO Open doors, the story of a young Afghan Christian woman who fled following the capture of the Taliban

 

Zabi* is a refugee who had to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban take-over. She’s single, still quite young and well-educated. She was active in the area of human rights and therefore a target for the Taliban.

 

But being an activist and fighting for her ideals is not Zabi’s only fault.

 

Zabi has many sins, including that of being born a woman and a Christian.

 

The Taliban already know who she is and what she does because already five years ago they killed her father for his faith, only after having tortured him for several months. And unfortunately the tragedies for Zabi do not end here.

 

Only two years ago, her brother also disappeared. Like Zabi, he was a believer. We don’t know if she has other siblings, but Zabi’s mother is still alive. She’s not Christian.

 

The story of Zabi is not the only one. There are many other stories, very similar, stories that are lost in the speed of modernity and in a world where priorities are those that make it to the front page.

 

So, it is precisely these stories, those of which it is impossible to know the epilogue.

 

We know, for example, that many of these refugees, after the seizure of Kabul, fled to Pakistan in the hope of a better future. And that right here, they found themselves if not in hell, certainly in purgatory.

 

Even in Pakistan, in fact, there is no rest for persecuted Christians.

 

With the intergroup, we managed to bring to the attention of European institutions, the infamy of the anti-blasphemy laws that claim victims every day in this part of the world. Thanks to our actions, we have been able to save the couple Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, in prison for 8 years, with the only fault of being Christians.

 

But that’s not enough. The Intergroup receives reports on a daily basis, not least that of Shazhad Masih for whom the Intergroup has made several moves to try to get a resolution on the agenda of the Parliament’s plenary session.

 

The story of Shazhad Masih was brought to the attention of the Intergroup by the NGO European Centre for Justice and Law. Shazhad is a 22-year-old young Christian man who has been in Pakistani prisons for five years, allegedly accused of being a blasphemer. In 2017, while at work – at the time of the events Shazhad was working in a hospital as a janitor – Shazhad got into an argument with one of his Muslim colleagues. Shortly after the dispute, the situation escalated and Shazhad was arrested.

 

From that moment, it also became impossible to get a date for a hearing. A hearing that to this day continues to be postponed.

 

There are several reasons why it is difficult to bring this case to the attention of European institutions and to have a hearing in Pakistani courts.

 

First of all, even before the recent developments in Pakistan, the situation regarding the blasphemy laws was complex. The Pakistani administration itself is in fact hostage to radicalized segments of the population that strenuously defend the anti-blasphemy laws and therefore fear that by freeing an alleged blasphemy offender, protests will arise.

 

At the European level, the intergroup does its best to carry on battles related to religion. However, it often encounters a relativist culture. A culture that permeates the European institution and that wants to relegate any discussion on religion to a mere private matter, not realizing that, by doing so, they are not even able to establish clear boundaries and limits for negotiations with third countries.

 

The hope, therefore, is that as soon as possible the European institutions will awaken from this torpor and begin to make their full weight – political and economic – felt in these negotiations, so that the lives of those who want to live in their own lands and who still look to this continent with hope, are protected.

 

 

Carlo Fidanza

Co-chair of the The Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance of the European Parliament

*Real name protected for security reasons

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