OSCE - Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2015

Soteria International intervention at OSCE/HDIM 2015 - Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief

Soteria International subject this year at HDIM was on the derogative term “sect” and the role of “anti-sect movements” in discrimination and hate crimes against small spiritual groups.

In our work, Soteria International is often in contact with the outcasts of religions - the so-called “sects”. The word “sect” describes religions that are so openly and generally discriminated that it is considered normal to do it. A “sect” is someone we all know is strange and subversive, without needing to know anything about them. “Sect” is the N-word of religious discrimination. What is a “sect” today may well be a normal religious practice in another place or time, just as many of today's normal religions were once considered “sects”. The arbitrary use of the term “sect” illustrates society's lack of insight, substantial discourse and personal experiences in the field of spiritual life.

Society believes there is a threat posed from “sects”. This belief is propagated through media and “anti-sect” special interest groups. The belief is unfounded and there is much less criminality within spiritual groups than, for example, some sports. The belief is based in ignorance and fear of the unknown. The spiritual groups become “the other” that may threaten us. Thus we are dealing with a structural discrimination against individuals who practice their fundamental right of religious freedom. Society has previously acted ardently to stop discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation etc. and it is now time to act, in response, in order to counter act the ongoing discrimination against spiritual groups.

The public hostility towards “sects” forms the basis of the persecution even if no-one has ever defined what a “sect” is. The term is used arbitrarily, so that any group that is not well established in society risks to be considered “a sect”. 

Due to the unfounded and arbitrary stigma of “sects”, it takes very little to create a campaign against spiritual groups. Behind the media campaigns, we most often find just one or two testimonies against the group, while thousands are still in favor.  Most often these accusations come from apostates as part of personal vendettas within the groups. (For the role of apostates and media in these judicial campaigns please see our report “The Impact of Apostates’ Activities on the Suppression Associations of Conscience or Belief”, 2012 http://www.soteriainternational.org/sr1205the-impact-of-apostates-activities-)

The police are rightfully obliged to look into any criminal accusations. In the case of spiritual groups, media campaigns as well as police investigations often turn against the whole group, also because the accusations usually are vague.

We have here, a modern version of witch hunts, with a few unreliable witnesses who have managed to create a wave of fear in society, in order to point out those who are different, as being dangerous.

As an agent behind the witch hunts, that may lead to hate crimes and discrimination, we often find an international network of anti-sect NGOs (such as FECRIS), who often work in close collaboration with media and police. These groups share often share a reactionary and dogmatic Christian view on society and religion. As shown by the report “Anti-sect movements and State Neutrality, published by Dresden University, these groups are often personally motivated, small in number and are given an undemocratic position as experts within many European judicial systems. In other countries, such as Scandinavia, FECRIS are themselves considered as extremists by society. Where these anti-sect groups still have influence, they must be reconsidered, based on the fundamental rights of those who live in that area.

By necessity combatting religious discrimination needs to shed light on the actual question; what are common human spiritual principles and what is spirituality's role in human life?

This should be the aim of national as well as international institutions.

In Belgium the buddhist Tibetan organization Ogyen Kunzang Chöling after 18 years investigation, the court recongnised that the reasonnable time had elapsed. This started in Belgium in 1997 with the “sect-list” which created lots of stigmatization and social marginalisation.

From our field investigations in the Czech Republic last month, we conclude that the hindu mystics Dobes and Plaskova and members of their religious group Poetrie, have been subjected to warrantless arrests, searches and different forms of psychological pressure, threats, intimidation and physical harm by Czech police, solely due to their religious affiliation.

The initial police investigation regarded human trafficking, which does not appear in the trial at all, but seems to be just a media scam to tarnish the image of the group members, describing them as a subversive “sect”.

Society must wake up and come to terms with this structural discrimination and instigation of hate against minority spiritual groups. Using the term “sect” must be considered as discrimination, and “anti-sect movements” should be monitored as instigators of hate, and not be let to play any part as experts in courts or media.