The situation of the Religious Freedom is a reason of concern for several NGOs.
The 15th March 2018, on the occasion of the 37th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations (Geneva), the french NGO with United Nations Consultative Status, the Coordination of the Associations and the People for Freedom of Conscience (CAP LC) organised an event on the topic of the Deterioration of Religious Freedom in Eastern Europe. It was focused on those following countries where this deterioration is unfortunately the most relevant : Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary and Russian Federation.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 20 October 2010. In the resolution, the General Assembly, points out that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of a culture of peace and established World Interfaith Harmony Week as a way to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith, all done on a total voluntary basis.
Showing togetherness, several organizations as:
Center for Dansk-Muslimske Relationer- www.cedar.nu ; EMISCO- www.emisco.eu ; ENAR- www.enar-eu.org ; Soteria International - www.soteriainternational.org ; Youth for Human Rights - www.ungeformenneskeret tigheder.dk ; United for Human Rights – www.humanrights.com ; Vejen til lykke – www.vejentillykke.dk The Danish Baha'I Community - http://www.bahai.dk/ ; Scientology Volunteer Ministers - https://www.freedommag.org join the WORLD INTERFAITH HARMONY WEEK, creating an event together and in this way celebrating the inclusiveness of all faiths in our lives.
The event is open to all people, all faiths and religions and will take place:
Date & Time: SATURDAY, 3 FEBRUARY 2018 from 13.00 – 16.00.
Address: Tent city at Nytorv, Copenhagen K.
On the 18 - 19 January one of the biggest events in the field of law and human rights took place, which gathered together 32 speakers from around the world, among which also a representative of Soteria International.
"In the prestigious setting of Sant'Apollonia Auditorium at the homonymous XIV century convent complex located in Via San Gallo, in the historic center of Florence, the international convention of the European Federation for the Freedom of the Belief (FOB) took place, under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (Dr. Thorbjørn Jagland), of the patronage of the Tuscany Regional Council, of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and of the University of Florence.
The Medal of the President of the Italian Republic was conferred to the convention. Prof. Silvio Calzolari (Secretary of FOB), presenting it together with attorney Alessandro Amicarelli (President of FOB), publicly thanked the President of the Republic “for having expressed his appreciation for FOB’s initiative, as an event of particular cultural and social value, through the attribution of a representation prize, a medal, which honors us".
On Monday, January 15, Soteria International attended a side-event following the Universal Periodic Review of France at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. In accordance with the views expressed at this meeting, research conducted by Soteria International has also concluded that French funding of anti-cult organizations, such as FECRIS and its member organizations, leads to stigmatization of spiritual practitions and the violation of the right to Freedom of Religion. This government funded "hate speech" has allowed this discourse to greatly affect the views of society at large, not only in France, but also accross Europe.
CAP/ LC HRWF (15.01.2017) – In a side-event following the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva this Monday 15th January, several NGOs and an international law expert have called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of FECRIS (European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects) and its member organizations. Under the predecessors of President Macron, FECRIS has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.
The representative of the French NGO CAP/LC (Coordination des Associations et des Individus pour la Liberté de Conscience), Mr. Thierry Vallé, highlighted the French policy stigmatizing religious minorities and the human consequences which are often dramatic for the members of these minorities. By financing FECRIS, France contributes to the expansion of this phenomenon in Europe.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, France must reconsider its policy regarding religious minorities, he added.
European Federation for Freedom of Belief - FOB, a Federation of Associations that advocate freedom of thought, religion and belief, will organize, under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, and under the patronage of OSCE - PA, on 18 - 19 January 2018 at Auditorium Sant'Apollonia, Firenze - Via San Gallo, 25/a the International Convention "Law and Freedom of Belief in Europe - An arduous journey".
Presentation of the event:
"Within globalization, within pluralism, in a multi-ethnic society, with the many exoduses and with the diversities bursting into our society, protection of civil rights and especially the right to believe and the right for freedom, have become a crucial need for the European Community and the national governments that comprise it. In an uncertain and volatile reality, that protection is our duty and the duty of each country, and the only way to make it valid and effective all over Europe and in each and every country of the Union, is to have European laws as well as European justice enforcement bodies.
With the differences of laws and rulings of each national government, with the pressures of anti-liberal forces and sometimes of nonsense politics, it is not an easy task, the one we are entitled to. Within the protection (with no shyness) of freedom to believe and freedom of religion, dwells a hope for peace, for pacific cohabitation and reciprocal acknowledgment which alone turns the different, the ‘other’, the unknown, into a comrade, a friend and a fellow citizen.
In such often puzzling protection stands the creation, as well, of the most truthful identity for Europe and its role amongst the nations and continents."
On December 10, Soteria International, Youth for Human Rights Denmark, and ENAR Denmark, hosted the 10th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Human rights activists and spiritual practitioners gathered to discuss the success of the past decade and directions for the future in order to improve on the current situation. The conference was chaired by Konrad Swenninger from Soteria International, who introduced this 10th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference by stating the importance of the spiritual aspect of human rights, as mentioned in the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human rights, that spirituality is in fact the base of human rights. Mr. Swenninger gave a short introduction to the topics undertaken in the previous conferences, leading to the topic of this year’s SHR conference, and emphasized the importance of the partnerships and collaborative efforts of the individuals and organizations present.
Several Human Rights NGO's took a stand and began to raise their concern on the persecution of the Church of Almighty God in China, as well as, the propaganda against the group in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Soteria International, together with:
CAP Freedom of Conscience – Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience
CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
CHNK – Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees
EIFRF – European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom
FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees
address their concern to the officials in charge of the situation, as follows:
"NGOs Condemn Persecution in China and Propaganda in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan against the Church of Almighty God
Thousands of members of the Church of Almighty God (CAG) have been incarcerated in China, following a further crackdown on unauthorized religious organizations. According to the rough statistics, more than 300,000 members of CAG were incarcerated and detained in China from the beginning of the persecutions in the 1990s to 2017. Many have been tortured and at least 30 died in custody in suspicious circumstances, according to a report just released by CAG and published by several human rights organizations internationally (see e.g, http://www.cesnur.org/2017/almighty_china_report.pdf). In the last few days, we have seen unprecedented media attacks against CAG published simultaneously in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, which seem to be an answer to the publication of this report.
The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is a new religious movement founded in China in 1991. It teaches that Jesus has returned to the Earth and incarnated as the Almighty God in a living person and is with us today. It also claims that prophecies in the Bible predict the fall of the Chinese Communist regime in China, although it does not advocate any form of armed rebellion. For this reason, CAG, credited by Chinese official sources with a membership of at least three million, has been persecuted massively since at least 1995.
The Chinese regime later started accusing CAG of various crimes, including causing riots based on a prediction that the world would end in 2012 and murdering a woman in a McDonald’s diner in Zhaoyuan in 2014. The recent media campaign repeats these accusations, although scholarly studies have debunked them as egregious examples of fake news spread to discredit CAG. In fact, the group responsible for the 2014 murder used the name “Almighty God,” but was not part of CAG and had different religious beliefs. Even studies hostile to CAG have concluded that, although some CAG believers expected the end of the world for 2012, this was not sanctioned by the leaders, was not part of CAG’s teachings, and did not lead to any riots.
This year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017 in Warsaw, representatives of the Church of Almighty God (CAG), contacted the delegates of Soteria International and presented the challenges their organization was facing in China. It is important to raise concern with regards to their situation and to make their case more known, thus helping them to attend their fundamental rights.
The Church of Almighty God, established in 1991, has released it's annual report "2017 Annual Report on the Chinese Communist Government’s Persecution of the Church of Almighty God"detailing it's persecution in the People's Republic of China. The report provides a history of the persecution of the Church, and documents individual cases of persecution.
We present you here an excerpt of the report , and the entire original report you can access on the Center for Studies on New Religions webpage here: http://www.cesnur.org/2017/almighty_china_report.pdf
"2017 Annual Report on the Chinese Communist Government’s Persecution of the Church of Almighty God
The Church of Almighty God (CAG), also known as Eastern Lightning, has long been one of the most severely persecuted Chinese house churches by the Chinese Communist government. Since its establishment in 1991, the CAG has continued to endure the brutal repression and persecution of the Chinese Communist government. In 1995, the CCP government used trumped-up charges such as “fraud in the name of religion, Qigong” and “deification of their leading members” to condemn the CAG as an “evil cult” and brutally repress and persecute the CAG. According to rough statistics, in just the two short years between 2011 and 2013, the number of Christians of the CAG illegally arrested, detained and sentenced by the Communist Party reached 380,380 people, of which 43,640 people were subjected to various methods of torture at the hands of kangaroo courts, including 13 people who were persecuted to death. As of now, there are already 44 well-documented cases of Christians of the CAG killed by the Communist Party. In 2017, the repression of the CAG by the Communist Party continues to escalate.
Its been ten years. Soteria International has grown steadily in the pursuit of securing fundamental freedoms and Spiritual Human Rights for all.
We want to celebrate a decade of success, as our perspectives have been heard, shared and spread all over Europe. Experts, politicians and human rights activists have shared their faith in our principles and commitment!
Despite the reach of our ideas and the positive feedback that followed, we have witnessed a growing trend in the society towards distrust, fear and suspicion regarding the intrinsic value of spiritual human right. Moreover, this trend is fuelled by mainstream media, and the law-makers and governments around Europe seem more inclined to listen to fear-mongers and social media thought-police.
The risk here is that, for fearing the spontaneous and creative nature of man's spirituality, the State is inclined to trample over the individual's basic human right, and far too often this is done in the name of the 'greater good'. As such, we have witnessed a decade of increased surveillance, increased xenophobia and an ever narrowing perspective on what is considered” normal” and acceptable within the society.
So, while celebrating our success in defending the spiritual rights of people all over Europe, we must also be prepared to live up to the increased challenges that are already here. Let us prepare for a decade of effective actions, not just words. Let us explore new ways to awaken the courage needed to live life fully, as complete and free human beings.
The tenth Spiritual Human Rights conference calls on all of us to be the guardian of the fundamental rights of people around us no matter their religion and culture, and never to let fear and ignorance be the measure of our hearts and freedom of conscience.
With the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the Czech Republic coming up next month, a Round Table National Pre-Session for the UPR of the Czech Republic was held in Prague on October 4, 2017 in order to provide foreign country delegates with the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding the current human rights situation in the Czech Republic. This autumn, the delegates will meet in Geneva in order to present their recommendations in this international forum.
In Section C- Anti-discrimination legislation from the National Report submitted at the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Fourteenth session, Geneva, 2012, at point 29, we find references to the Anti-discrimination legislation, which is based on the constitutional principles of equality in dignity and rights, and on the prohibition of discrimination on illegitimate grounds.
As religion, belief, or world view are among the rights which should be protected and not grounds for discrimination, the event served as an opportunity to raise the attention of participants to a possible misunderstanding of religious practice in the Czech Republic.
Soteria International, the only foreign organization present, was invited to speak on the topic of the effects of globalization and new religious movements on the development of freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, within the national framework of a case that is currently taking place in the Czech Republic.
Along with a network of scholars, religious leaders, and human rights advocates and practitioners, Soteria International collaborates in order to raise awareness of the growing number of people adopting a spiritual perspective on life, who are often met with a resistant misunderstanding of newly emerging values and principles in society. In some cases, this misunderstanding leads to governmental and institutional intolerance and misunderstanding towards new spiritual and religious movements.
This year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), HRWF brought forth, once again, the case of Jaroslav Dobes ('Guru Jara') and Barbora Plaskova, two Czech nationals who are currently detained in the Philippines due to their inability to acquire valid Czech passports. This is a case, which Soteria International has followed closely since 2014, having conducted an extensive fact-checking mission and subsequent advocacy for.
Here are some excerpts from the intervention presented by HRWF at Working Session 13: Rule of Law II/Right to a fair trial of the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw by HRWF Int'l:
Detained for 2 1⁄2 years in the Philippines as forcibly undocumented by the Czech authorities
Two Czech citizens, Barbora Plaskova and Jaroslav Dobes, have been respectively detained in the Immigration Detention Center of Bagong Diwa in the Philippines since April and May 2015 on the grounds that their passports were no longer valid.
Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova have been living and working for years as yoga teachers in the Philippines and each of them has a child born in the country.
On 14th April 2015 Barbora Plaskova went to the Czech consulate in Manila, in the Philippines, to prolong the validity of her passport but she was denied a new one and she was kept in the Immigration Detention Center in Manila where she still is.
On 15th May 2015, Jaroslav Dobes, was arrested in Surigao del Norte, in the Philippines, where he openly exercised his activities of yoga teacher because his passport was not valid any more. He was immediately sent to the Immigration Detention Center in Manila where he still is.
Both Czech citizens were hereby left “undocumented” by their embassy in the Philippines.
In Prague, the authorities requested and obtained from Interpol the issuance of an international arrest warrant against Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova.
Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) International is a reputable NGO seeking to influence "European and international policy in ways that strengthen democracy, uphold the rule of law and protect human rights globally." The organization often takes a particular focus on freedom of religion or belief and publishes an annual World Report on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The following excerpts were presented by HRWF at Working Session 6: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief of the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw:
Russia: 170,000 Russian citizens forbidden to practice their faith
Intervention by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), in cooperation with the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe (FOREF)
Our organization, along with the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe, takes this opportunity to raise once again what is arguably the most flagrant assault on religious freedom to occur in the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe – namely, the Russian Federation’s illegal ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As we meet here today, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are charged with membership in an “extremist” organization, are being prosecuted for no other crime than their religious faith.
The ban was confirmed by the Russian Supreme Court on the 20th of April 2017. The law makes it a crime for about 170,000 Russian citizens to practice their faith. The denomination has faced increasing persecution in Russia for decades. Indeed, we have warned about the growing persecution of members of this group in Russia for 13 years.
Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen, was arrested for attending a religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witness and was sentenced to a 2-month pretrial detention that has been extended until 23 November. Russia is thus incarcerating a prisoner of conscience in this case.
Still, this unprecedented restriction on the fundamental human right to freedom of religion, a right the Russian Federation is committed to protect as a signatory to the Helsinki documents, and under legal treaty obligations, has been met with only limited and muted criticism. More often than not, the ban has been met by silence indicating indifference. International reaction has not been consistent with the gravity of this massive violation of human rights.
Along with Soteria International, many other NGOs working towards the respect of human rights are involved in revealing the harmful activities and impact of anti-sect organizations. Each year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, the issue of anti-sect organizations is raised with yet new examples of abuses committed since the last meeting. Does the problem persist due to a lack of political will?
Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers Pour la Liberté de Conscience (Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, or CAP) is one of the organisations with whom Soteria International collaborates. At this year's OSCE HDIM, CAP exposed, yet again, the harmful impact of FECRIS, a supposed non-government organisation claiming to be fighting against the abuse of individuals by 'sects/cults', yet whose work is almost entirely funded by the French state.
Following is the statement made by CAP at the OSCE HDIM 2017:
Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM)
Working Session 6: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief Warsaw, 11 – 22 September 2017
It has NGO consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. During the last OSCE session on freedom of religion or belief in September 2016, CAP exposed the harmful activities of FECRIS (the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism) in Russia and its integral financing by the French Government.
Members of FECRIS and of its Russian branch, the Saint Ireneus of Lyons Centre for Religious Studies which is affiliated to the Orthodox Church, have been waging for years a campaign against non-Orthodox minorities in order t o eradicate them from the Russian territory. Alexander Dvorkin, Vice-President of FECRIS and Director of the Saint Ireneus of Lyons.
[Dvorkin] is the major spokesperson and activist in th is campaign against religious minorities in Russia.
For years, NGOs have been advocating for and warning about the dire situation of women around the world being accused of, and subsequently abused, on the grounds of witchcraft.
In 2014, the United Nations reported that witchcraft accusations that are used to justify extreme violence against older women were reported in 41 African and Asian countries...[and] older widows are often those most at risk.” Due to the fact that elderly women are especially at risk of being targeted due to discriminatory attitudes and practices, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Member States to “enact and enforce stronger laws and strategies to address all aspects of this under-acknowledged social, public health and human rights issue.”
Cross-culturally, it is difficult to define the terms ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft,’ which can signify various different traditions or faith healing practices depending on the context. With a lack of definition, there is also no normative framework or formal mechanism which ensures effective response or monitoring of human rights violations based on ‘witchcraft’.
21-22 September 2017, has marked a ground-breaking step towards prioritizing this issue. The United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva—in collaboration with multiple Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva, NGOs, and Lancaster University—has hosted an expert workshop on witchcraft and human rights, gathering civil society, country representatives, UN experts, and academics to discuss solutions to this practice.
As stated in the report “Anti-sect movements and State Neutrality," published by Dresden University, the activities undertaken by anti-sect organizations are often personally motivated, run by a small number of individuals, and are given an undemocratic position as experts within many European judicial systems.
Patricia Duval is an International Human Rights lawyer in Paris, France who has defended the rights of religious minorities in national and international cases. She has defended and spoken before institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union, and the United Nations.
At this year's OSCE HDIM, Mrs. Duval spoke to the OSCE, country delegates, and civil society representatives regarding anti-sect movements and organizations in France.
Here you can read the entire intervention prepared by Patricia Duval:
The European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Sectarianism (FECRIS) has 3 member associations in France which are all three financed for over 90% of their budget by public funds. FECRIS itself has been financed nearly entirely by the French State with a ratio over 92% of public funding compared to its private memberships since 2001.
How these associations were created and what they are up to
In the 1980s, private anti-sect associations started to appear in France, created by parents who disagreed with the choice of their overage children to adhere to minority belief groups. Such was the case of UNADFI (the National Union of Associations for the Defense of the Family and the Individual) and CCMM (the Center Against Mental Manipulations).
The first Association for the Defense of the Family and the Individual (“ADFI”) was created in France in 1974 by a Doctor (Champollion) whose son of 18 joined the “Unification Church”.
Dr Champollion and his wife studied the basic books of the group and disagreed with the beliefs they outlined which contradicted their own, as they deemed that the group’s literature contained unfounded statements on the history of humanity (since the Creation) and the Biblical Exegesis.
Mr. and Mrs. Champollion met other parents whose children had also joined the Unification Church. They started to have long discussions with them, Bible in hand, to try to have them recount their newly acquired faith.
As these followers were over age, there was no possible legal action and this is why they created the first Association of Defense of the Family and the Individual (ADFI) to lobby public authorities against this particular group.
Working Session #9 of the 2017 OSCE HDIM was based on the concepts of tolerance and non-discrimination, with a focus on the critical role that education plays in promoting tolerance, countering racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, aggressive nationalism and other forms of intolerance, including against Muslims, Christians and members of other religions.
Soteria International considered it important to inform the 57 delegates of the OSCE and the representatives of civil society, of the opinion that in order to decrease and eliminate discrimination and non-tolerance we need to look more profoundly to solve the sources that are generating such attitudes on the individual and social level. In this forum, Soteria, therefore, addressed the fact that inner conflicts are generating external conflicts and vice versa. Thus, we must incude a greater understanding and knowledge of others, their traditions, and their spiritual beliefs, thereby eliminating the source of the conflict.
The intervention can be accessed on the OSCE website, as well as, read below:
OSCE – HDIM 2017
WORKING SESSION 9 – Tolerance and non-discrimination, 15 Sept 2017
The Individual Responsibility for a Harmonious Society
It is a major obligation of all OSCE member states to combat discrimination and substantial resources are invested to diminish the symptoms of discrimination and non-tolerance. Still, discrimination and non-tolerance continue to challenge our societies.
Discrimination and non-tolerance are often considered to be the offspring of inner conflicts in society, and it is the inner conflicts of individuals which are reflected in the outer conflicts of society.
Soteria International would like to suggest that we consider the inner conflicts of individuals as the basis for discrimination and non-tolerance.
Finding coherence in one’s own being is the only way to reach a deep sense of meaning in life and harmoniously integrate in society. A society without discrimination and non-tolerance is possible only when individuals become actively aware of their feelings, thoughts, words, and actions. Ultimately, only inner transformation will ensure proper fulfilment in life, allowing peace and harmony to come, thereby, opposing discrimination and non-tolerance at all levels.
Addressing the outer conflicting situation as the base of discrimination and non-tolerance disregards the seed inside the individual, always awaiting the right conditions to grow into outer conflict. Conflicts can only be addressed at the individual level, by engaging the individual as a whole, centred in the heart.
Working Session #7 of the 2017 OSCE HDIM was based on the concepts of tolerance and non-discrimination, with a focus on combating racism, xenophobia, and discrimination; combating anti-Semitism and intolerance and discrimination against Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions; and prevention and response to hate crimes in the OSCE area.
Soteria international addressed the fact that freedoms come hand in hand with obligations, or responsibilities. We cannot just claim our rights without considering, also, our obligations and the consequences of our actions. Words have power; even in the physical world. What we say can affect the physical welfare of a person, a group of people, or even a nation. We, therefore, suggest, that holding ourselves accountable to what we say and do with our opinions or ideas is the solution in correctly implementing the freedom of expression. Exercising self-control by learning how to control our speech, while also considering the fact that we all have different capacities to handle words or criticism. It is limiting someone’s freedom of speech when asking them to behave properly, with common sense, and with respect for others.
The intervention can be accessed on the OSCE website, as well as, read below:
OSCE – HDIM 2017
WORKING SESSION 7 – Tolerance and non-discrimination 1, 14 Sept 2017
Freedom of Expression and Religious Rights: Rights and Obligations
Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Expression are points of concern in all OSCE member states. The complex interaction between these fundamental freedoms has changed in the last decade, through the impact of social media and demographic changes related to immigration. Freedom of expression and Freedom of thought, conscience and belief often seem to clash in the form of blasphemy, discrimination, hate-crimes etc. Still, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and belief are two sides of the same fundamental inner human need to express and live by ones’ own heart, without denying anyone else the same freedom.
All who engage in social media need to be aware that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in the public sphere.
Freedom of thought, conscience and belief is a central commitment in all OSCE member states, and constitute the basis of tolerance and non-discrimination. Despite many national and international efforts, individuals and religious or belief communities face a range of issues characterized by intolerance, discrimination, and hate speech towards their beliefs. These challenges have profound roots in the lack of education at a social level.
At the core of the human rights dimension lies the commitment to combat all forms of intolerance and discrimination, including hate crime, and to promote mutual respect and understanding.
Both the Danish Institute for Human Rights, in their Status Report for 2016-2017, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, who published his observations from a visit to Denmark in 2016 this March, have stated that freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, thought, and belief are under pressure in Denmark. So there’s an argument to address both of these freedoms in the Danish context.
Let’s first establish a common understanding for the basis of what we’re discussing today. Firstly, human rights law protects the rights of everyone and is based on the principle of non-discrimination. The rights we have are interrelated and equally important, yet are legally implemented in different ways due to the principles of proportionality and the pursuit of a legitimate aim. Any interference with our protected rights must therefore be embedded in national law and be made public in order to protect citizens from inconsistent or unclear rulings.
Secondly, the freedoms we have are composed of both rights and responsibilities that are our obligation to uphold, promote, and encourage at all times. It is also the responsibility of individuals, groups, and associations to promote respect for and foster knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.
We would like to argue that the two rights we will speak about today, the Freedom of Conscience, thought, and belief and freedom of expression, go hand in hand and cannot be seen as independent and separate rights, but instead we can say that freedom of conscience is a form of freedom of expression and vice versa.
The second conference of our 2017 Spiritual Human Rights series, hosted by Soteria International and ENAR Denmark, was attended representatives with a variety of backgrounds, including spiritual practitioners, academics, law, students, and human rights activists.
Konrad Swenninger, of Soteria International, moderated the conference and set the stage by stating the need to raise the level of the conversation that is being had on the topics of the freedom of expression, and the freedom of conscience, thought, and belief.
The speakers of the panel included: Josephine Carlson from Soteria International, Jens-Peter Bonde, a former member of the European Parliament; Siri Tellier from the University of Copenhagen; Advaita Stoian representing Natha Yoga Center; Jette Møller from SOS Against Racism; Anette Refstrup from the Church of Scientology in Denmark; and Bashy Quraishy representing European network against racism ENAR.
The general theme was the unfortunate and actual situation in many European countries where the rights of minorities, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression seem to clash due to social tensions that manifest as hate speech and defamation of certain cultural and spiritual groups. Each one of the participants brought their unique view to the table, and the audience participated with comments and questions.
Josephine Carlson, the representative from Soteria International, defined freedom of expression and religious freedoms and stated that they don’t necessary have to be seen as conflicting. In the both of these freedoms the core idea is everybody’s right and ability to express him/herself and to live in his/her own truth from the heart. She also pointed out that the verbal violence is a form of violence that also can have severe consequences and that it’s important for all people to aim to respect the principle of “do no harm.” According to Carlson, the mature merging of these two fundamental rights is possible when human beings take a higher perspective upon them and cease to see them as opposing.
The Romanian yoga teacher, Gregorian Bivolaru, has been released from prison in his country of origin. The conditional release was requested and granted after serving one third of the sentence.
Thousands of yoga practitioners suffered the consequences of persecution in Romanian as the yoga movement was targeted, beginning during the Ceausescu times and culminating in 2004.
The yoga teacher, Gregorian Bivolaru, has had refugee status in Sweden since 2006, based on his religious persecution, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In 2016, however, he was arrested in France and extradited to Romania. Thus, international laws were jeopardized, when Romanian authorities defied EU regulations by continuing the persecution and issuing a European Arrest Warrant in 2013. This created a unique and controversial situation within the EU judicial collaboration, where the refugee was simultaneously protected and persecuted.
The much awaited release of Mr. Bivolaru does not reflect an official change in the ongoing persecution of the yoga teacher.
The relief of his release cannot take away from the importance of the abuses committed in the case, and the struggle for justice within the Romanian system should continue.
Soteria International has been following this case since 2007 and shares the joy of Mr. Bivolaru's long awaited release. May his release inspire international human rights activists, politicians, and experts to further engage themselves in the defence of human rights.