Institutional discrimination of religious and spiritual minorities in Italy and Romania discussed at the OSCE meeting with civil society

The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), Europe's largest annual human rights and democracy conference, is organized every year by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) as a platform for OSCE participating States, Partners for Co-operation, civil society, international organizations and OSCE structures to take stock of the implementation of the human dimension commitments, discuss associated challenges, share good practices and make recommendations for further improvements (

Respect for freedom of religion or belief is a subject of great importance for international institutions, as the violation of it deprives people of sacredness, scarce, such as it is in modern lifestyles. Representatives of religious minorities, human rights activists, representatives of OSCE member states bring on the agenda issues and challenges of the path towards multiculturalism, religious pluralism and dignifying consideration for religious and spiritual beliefs.

Discrimination, marginalization, stigmatization, incitement to hate, disacknowledgement – these are some of the critical issues reported by the civil society. For several years, Soteria International presents at the HDIM discrimination cases of spiritual movements. Analysis of the cases showed similarities and certain patterns in the cases observed, and this year Soteria International hosted a side event at the HDIM to bring up the details of the persecution campaigns against spiritual movements, based on the case studies of Italy and Romania.

Italian reality of spiritual movements is marked by the hostility and misinformation campaigns run by anti-sect organizations. In 2006 their powerful lobby with the state resulted with the creation of the Italian Anti-sect Squad (SAS) within Italian police. Abusively attacking many of the spiritual movements, though no evidences ever were provided of any illicit activities, SAS had lead to marginalization of spiritual practitioners, causing real dramas in their lives. Arkeon, Ananda Assisi, Damanhur, Osho, Scientology, Atman Italy, are some of the most descriptive examples. Some of spiritual movements, for example Arkeon, ceased to exist because of SAS intrusions, but the dramas found neither resolutions, nor reconciliation, not even today. Despite all that, SAS continues its activity, targeting new spiritual movements, causing new innocent victims.

Romanian reality, though very similar in the traits of the attacks, implies a different scheme. Anti-sect organizations are not present in Romania, however state institutions directly conduct campaigns against spiritual movements. Defamation campaigns, institutional blockades, police attacks, all seem to be coordinated and conducted in a centralized manner from high levels of state power. Romanian courts, unable to deal with matters pertaining to freedom of religion and belief, produce unfair trials and convict innocent victims of state abuse against spiritual movements. The vehemence of the court judges, especially in the cases of the M.I.S.A. movement, raises serious questions whether the fabricated files against spiritual movements are nothing but an orchestration to show to the public that the state will punish the attempts to advocate and organise associations based on free thinking, that do not submit to the state imposed social construct.

Despite the fact that Romania and Italy are democratic states, members of the EU, in the area of freedom of religion and belief, state policy is nothing short of totalitarianism, albeit manifested in disguise.

On a positive note, the common patterns in so many cases of persecution of spiritual movements could also mean that by bringing a positive difference in at least one of such cases, by stopping and unmasking the secretive traits of centralised attacks, by counteracting the defamation campaigns, the echo of such victories will also benefit all other movements strangled by persecutions, and most importantly will give support and faith to all practitioners that it is possible to freely manifest your choice of conscience and belief, and should anyone attempt to limit or violate that right – effective defence will be there.

Video reportages from the side event organized by Soteria International will be posted on the website, to broadcast the interesting and extremely important messages of the contributors to the event: political activist, senator - Marco Perduca (Italy), freelance journalist - Camillo Maffia (Italy), psychologist - Raffaella Di Marzio (Italy), human rights defender, director of HRWF Int’l - Willy Fautre (Belgium), social activist Dan Spatariu (Romania), human rights activist – Roberta Rendina (Italy), together with other accounts of victims who were cautious to disclose their names publicly, for the reasons mentioned above.