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 (www.osce.org/hdim_2013).
by Camillo Maffia
Recent reports on the conditions of religious freedom in Italy show a relatively peaceful situation compared with other European countries and the world. However, there is often the tendency to underestimate the backwardness of the legislative framework, insufficient to contain the changes that globalization has produced in a country in which, only thirty years ago, Catholicism was the only religion of the State. The media role and the control of the police on religious minorities is such as to enable us to affirm that equal religious opportunities are not guaranteed enough, at the level of co-existence, in the country.
A case about religious persecutions and violation of human rights was signaled in Poland, starring the spotlight on Ryszard Matuszewski (Paramahansa Lalit Mohan Baba-Ji), the head of Hindu Himavanti Confraternity Order (HCO), who was imprisoned together with other members of HCO, based on information posted on the site www.ryszard-matuszewski.com.
We present below some details related to this case, in the way it was mentioned on the above site, and we will investigate for updates in the near future.
Mr. Bivolaru is a Romanian refugee with asylum in Sweden. He has been persecuted since the Ceausescu regime. In June 2013, Romanian authorities issued a European Warrant of Arrest for him to be handed over for 6 years imprisonment. Swedish authorities are obliged simultaneously to protect the refugee and to take no part in the persecutions from which they protect him.
Unconstitutional practices – witch-hunts in the media – and social marginalization: stigmatization of minority religions and spiritual movements.
As minority religions and spiritual and esoteric movements gain momentum in the modern world, so do those who criticise them, often helped by sensationalist media and institutionalized interests. The large propagation of misinformation, based on interpretations, rumours and exaggerations, often lead to marginalization and persecution of spiritual practitioners. One would expect modern democratic countries to effectively mediate such discriminations. Instead, authorities themselves often fall into a trap of sensationalistic threats proliferated by media and traditionalists.
Join us for a Peace Walk in Copenhagen Saturday 21st September on the UN international Peace Day!
Soteria International will contribute among the Peace Speeches outside the Danish Parliament 3-4 pm. The arrangement is a joint venture under the guidence of "Think with the Heart" - Tænk med Hjertet.
Soteria International are partners in organizing the conference "A cause for concern in Europe: Freedom of opinion, religion and belief. Persecution of, and discrimination against minority groups" in the European Parliament 16th October.
We cordially welcome all collaborators and interested to this important discussion among scholars, human rights activists and politicians for securing fundamental freedom in Europe!
Last year we highlighted the democratic problems inside FECRIS that surfaced in a report from Dresden University - Undemocratic practices of anti-sect movements.
The well-known Human Rights defender Mr. Quraishy visited their annual meeting and after issued a video expressing his negative experiences confirming the critique of sectarian and undemocratic practices within the organization.
Mr. Quraishy also made a written complaint to the Council of Europe where FECRIS enjoys advisory status and received an answer from Jutta Gützkow, Head of Civil Society Division, Directorate General of Democracy of the Council of Europe, who replied that they are looking into the matter.
The video has been widely spread in social media and social society have expressed their support of Mr. Quraishy’s critique and republished the video, such as Human Rights Without Frontiers, Religions for Peace, European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) and EMISCO.
Soteria International fully supports Mr. Quraishy and all initiatives to increase transparency regarding the disproportionate influence FECRIS and their anti-spiritual and undemocratic agenda have in Europe today.
On the 27th July Soteria International was invited to speak at the Universal Peace Federation interfaith prayer meeting in Copenhagen on the topic of “Most important three points for interfaith activity”. Soteria International encourages the many growing interfaith activities that we consider a cornerstone in securing the freedom of conscience and belief, as outlined in the speech as follows:
“Thank you Mr. Igarashi and Universal Peace Federation for inviting Soteria International to this well arranged interfaith meeting to speak on the important issue of interfaith activities.
Soteria International is engaged when human rights are breached due the individual practice of faith or belief.
Below is the video declaration of Madalina Dumitru, the alleged victim in the case against Gregorian Bivolaru. She states the ordeal she has to endure because of the trial she was dragged into against her will becasue of the blatant decision of Romanian authorities to incriminate Gregorian Bivolaru by all means.
It was publicly admitted that in 1995 the Romanian Secret Services (SRI – the follower of Securitate) restarted to monitor the activity of Gregorian Bivolaru and MISA, as they considered that the organization he founded, as well as himself, threaten the national security. Thus, by wrongly applying the special procedure provided for in the Law for the National Security no. 51/1991, articles 13-15, the phone conversations of Gregorian Bivolaru and other MISA members have been wire-tapped. Following the same illegal attitude, on the 1st of February 1999 the Romanian Secret Services informed the authorities on the perpetuation of offences against state security, such as propaganda in favour of the totalitarian state, provided for in article 166 Penal Code (PC), and the communication of false information, provided for in article 1681 PC. By the resolution no. 500/P/1999 from the 30th of October 2000 the Prosecutors’ Office of the Bucharest Court of Appeal decided not to start the penal proceedings and the complaint was quashed. On the 27th of May 2002 the Romanian Secret Services communicated again to the Prosecutors’ Office of the High Court of Cassation and Justice (Highest Court) the fact that between 1999 and 2002 the persons previously investigated had continued to do in an organized way such actions as alleged in 1999. By the resolution no. 500/P/1999 on the 7th of April 2003 it was again decided not to start the penal proceedings, because there was no evidence of that.
(excerpt translated from the book “The Suppression of the Yoga Movement in the 80s”)
The investigation we have carried out in this book has only been looking at the issue of the repression of the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute, both of the organization itself, of the members of this organization, and the repression of the movement’s adepts, who were more or less active and close, and who went through MISA’s yoga training courses. Our research did not focus on the School’s doctrine problems, nor did it tackle its spiritual and cultural significance. Outside the scope of our analysis were also the very few private or institutional interventions against the repression of the Movement; such references, if they do exist, were introduced to shed light on the background of our undertaking.
Covertly in the beginning, and later on overtly, the action taken against MISA and its followers lasted just as long as the post- December 1989 Romania. The repression against MISA has been going on for 20 years now and still had not ceased by the moment this volume was brought out. Judging by its proportions, it was outweighed only by the retaliation of the opposition during the miners’ riots, another phenomenon bearing the hallmark of the Romanian transition period. However, the miners’ riots were only a short-time clash, and purely political, and lasted as long as the Power could take control over everything in this country. The repression against MISA crossed all the stages of the transition, starting with the red quadrangle times, and lasting through to Romania’s EU accession, and even after this significant event. It looks like the repression has never been affected by the transition from one government to the other, nor was it influenced by the alternate terms in office of the presidents, who in turn changed the head of the intelligence services and the general prosecutors.
The Movement for Spiritual Integration in Absolute (M.I.S.A.) has been founded as a non-profit association, by judicial decision on January 23, 1990, by the Court of Bucharests First District. It has a socio-professional, philosophical and educative character, aiming to increase the spiritual level of people by spreading the traditional yoga knowledge and practices.
The spiritual mentor of Movement for Spiritual Integration in Absolute is the yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru. Endowed with a truthfully encyclopedic knowledge, having a rich practical experience and genuine pedagogical talent, Gregorian Bivolaru contrived to found what we today name M.I.S.A. Yoga School, the largest yoga school in Europe.
I. VIOLATIONS OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS – PROHIBITION OF TORTURE
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The Romanian authorities organized an abusive house search in 16 private houses on the 18th of April 2004. During the house searches, which were very violent, the police troops and gendarmes found most of the people sleeping. This is one fact that underlines that the force used against the peaceful inhabitants was completely disproportionate. When they were awoken by the broken doors and windows, many of the yogis were hit very hard in the head with the ends of machine guns and with the boots in the chest, even if no one opposed the entrance of the official troops.
On 17 June 2013, the renowned NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers addresses the questionable conviction of Gregorian Bivolaru, the founder of the largest spiritual movement in Romania, in its newsletter. Please see below:
Blatant abuses in Romanian Supreme Court. Founder of largest yoga movement in Romania sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Gregorian Bivolaru, famous political dissident of the Ceausescu regime and founder of the largest yoga movement in Romania, was sentenced on 14 June 2013 by the Romanian Supreme Court to 6 years in prison. He was convicted for sexual relation with a minor. The charge was formulated in result of an unprecedented police attack on 18 March 2004 when 300 masked and heavily armed policemen raided 16 private homes of yoga practitioners. The said minor was unlawfully retained by police, tortured and forced to testify against the defendant. She returned the very next morning to the prosecutors office together with her lawyer, withdrew the testimony which she was forced to give and filed a complaint against prosecutors. Her request was denied and she was dragged through courts for 9 years, serving as a victim in the process against Bivolaru, with whom she continuously denied having sexual relations. Several years ago she urged international human rights organization to help her, since all attempts to respect her rights failed in Romania and her life became an ordeal because of Romanian prosecutors, judges and media.
In the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights one speaks strongly about the dignity and equal and inalienable human rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Ignorance and violation of human rights, says the preamble, often resulted in revolting barbarous acts. Moreover, here is proclaimed the image of a world where man is free to think and talk about his beliefs, free from terror and misery, as an expression of one of the highest aspirations of humanity. Also, it is specified that this statement was intended to be a common ideal of humanity to which all peoples and nations should and must converge constantly and – by the teaching and education that they will understand to give their peoples, each based on its specific and by bearing in mind that this ideal sprang from the deeply humanistic spirit of the Declaration – strive very hard and use all the means to develop a great respect and justification for these rights and freedoms.
Presentation of the “Freedom of Religion and Belief” (FORB) world report
The topic of freedom of religion or belief has again been discussed in the European Parliament. Human Rights without Frontiers, a renown NGO actively advocating in the field of freedom of religion and belief has presented on 23 April 2013 it’s report on the subject, in a conference presided by the Vice President of European Parliament, Mr. Laszlo Surjan.
Soteria International has attended the event, which impressed by the quality of the presented report and also by the number and variety of the audience. The report did steer some controversy, inevitable, as we have noticed, when the issue of religion is touched upon in the context of human rights. The alarming number of incidents, especially among representatives of various religions, strengthens evermore the message of Soteria International: the need for a strong emphasis on spiritual stratum of religions, which will set a unifying ground for dialogue and solutions to peaceful co-existence. Institutionalization of religions and use of the religious discourse for political purpose, will only conduct to more flaming contradictions.
"Thank you Soteria for highlingting questions at the core of our existence, as individuals and as a society. Soteria's aims look very noble, innocent and prizeworthy. But in this innocence Soteria asks very penetrating questions and try to shake the status quo"
- Bashy Quaraishy, General Secretary, EMISCO
Friday evening the seminar was preluded by a special screening of the documentary "Free the mind".
The discussion following gave an unorthdox angle on the seminar; is "spirituality" in any way a "problem" to be "solved" by "society". Is the understanding of society as sharing responsability for individual progress actually a trap hindering real spiritual progress?
The seminar itself presented a wide range of perspectives on if and how the state should, or should not engage itself in the progression of spirituality in society.
During 2012-2013 Soteria International hosts four visionary seminar with hands-on practitioners on the relation between state and spiritual practice. The first was "What is Spirituality's Role i Modern Society?" followed 20th April by "What is the State's Role in IndividualSPiritual Progress?". Next conferencess will be in the end of September 2013 and beginning of December 2013.
Current report comprises findings of the observation work started by Soteria International in 2007, in response to the international appeal launched by Romanian Yoga movement M.I.S.A. (Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute) to tackle the situation of fundamental liberties in Romania concerning spiritual practitioners. The appeal came in result of a massive assaultoperation carried out on 18 March 2004 by anti-terrorist squad of Romanian police against peaceful yoga practitioners. The operation echoed in the following years with numerous human rights violations, which were mostly ignored or covered up by Romanian authorities, creating a volatile environment for practitioners of spiritual disciplines and marginalizing a substantial segment of Romanian population.
In conducting observations for the current report, Soteria International has met with representatives of M.I.S.A. management board, conducted surveys and interviews among practitioners in M.I.S.A. yoga schools, observed yoga classes and yoga camps, surveyed media campaigns around the case, conducted trial monitoring missions in the Supreme Court of Romania, met Romanian officials in national and EU parliaments, collaborated with Romanian and international human rights organizations and researchers.