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PACE - Freedom of religion 'without impediment and without discrimination'

PACE - Freedom of religion and living together in a democratic society

On 30 September 2015 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, had a debate about the Freedom of religion and belief and the discrimination that sometimes happens in Europe. We quote from their press release and resolution.

„Religious communities should be able to exercise the right to freedom of religion “without impediment and without discrimination” and to practise their faith publicly and freely in accordance with their own rites, said PACE, which is concerned about the tensions generated in Europe by the development of many beliefs and churches.

The Assembly noted that certain religious practices remained controversial within national communities and underlined that the wearing of full-face veils, circumcision of young boys and ritual slaughter were divisive issues.

In addition, the Assembly called on states to seek “reasonable accommodations” for controversial religious practices, in particular in the workplace, the aim being to guarantee effective equality in the right to freedom of religion.

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Human Rights, Anti-mosque Law and Anti Cult Squad challenged by FOB at the OSCE 2015

FOB, European Federation for Freedom of Belief, at the OSCE/ HDIM Meeting in Warsaw

European Federation for Freedom of Belief, FOB, it is a Federation of Associations that advocate freedom of thought, religion and belief. It has been intended as an initiative to support the EU FORB program.

Soteria International is part of FOB since its creation and we work together for a place where all the people live together enjoying fairness and equality too, dispite their religious or belief.

FOB openly stands against every form of religious discrimination, including any arbitrary distinction between "religions" and "cults"; across the decades in fact such a stigma has become largely discriminatory and indeed has been employed to discriminate against religious and spiritual minorities.

At the same time FOB also condemn every kind of abuses and illegalities as well as any type of violence occurring at any place, inside any religious or non-religious environment; and for this very reason we reject any distinction based on early ideological assertions.

This year, during the OSCE/HDIM 2015, FOB expressed openly its position in the session about „Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief”.


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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.

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Witch-hunt effects in society - part 2

We continue with the series of articles regarding the witch-hunt effects in society, displacing the rule of law, when spiritual groups are confronted with allegations of sexual abuse.

In nowadays, 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

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.

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Anti-sect movement starts witch-hunt against yoga at the State University of Uruguay

Situation of discrimination against Academia de Yoga – Ananda (Uruguay) August 2015

Since 2012 the course “scientific yoga” has been offered to the students of the University of the Republic of Uruguay (UDELAR). The course has become very popular among both students and teachers. The success has been internationally appreciated as a novel way to increase study results at the University.

Last week the psychologist Farias together with the priest Pastorino accused the yoga course to be “sectarian”, both members of SEAS - Servicio de Estudio y Asesoramiento en Sectas del Uruguay.

While visiting the University they created panic by spreading the rumour that three students, who are presently at a yoga retreat in Europe, had been kidnapped by a European sex sect. Soteria International has been in contact with the students, who managed to assure their worried families and friends that the rumours are unfounded.

The non-democratic and subversive role of anti-sect movements was highlighted in the report “Anti-Sect Movements and State Neutrality” (Dresden University, 2012). Exhibiting a strong bias and acting as if driven by vested interests, the psychologist and priest have posed as experts in front of media and authorities, instigating hate and staging contemporary “witch-hunts” in media."

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Religious identity and power: preserving the status quo

By Mark Barwick, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (15.07.2015) - When the freedom of religion or belief has been violated, we typically think of actions that have been taken against individuals. This is the lens through which people of Western cultures tend to view human rights, since individuals are normally regarded as the primary right-holders in society. It is also individuals that are held accountable for infractions of the law or for criminal offenses.

However, many people are in prison or are otherwise sanctioned not for something that they have done or for something they believe in, despite the charges that have been made against them. They are there because of their religious or belief identity and association with a group.

The freedom of association is a hallmark of any democratic system. And the freedom of religion or belief itself is understood to include the freedom to practice one's religion "either individually or in community with others," as it is stated in Article 18 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. It is this community dimension - that is present in most religions and that shapes profoundly religious identity - that can make governments and authorities uneasy. It can trigger actions to monitor, control and even supress that community. And by implication, that means anyone who is associated with that community.

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Falun Gong suppression in China

Self- immolation hoax in Tiananmen Square- Government and media manipulation in China

1998-1999 began the launch of China’s suppression of the Falun Gong, a traditional discipline with a big following in China (70-100 million practising). Being an accessible spiritual practise bringing a lot of benefits, Falun Gong was becoming a respected practise and a household name.

As we know, from many of the cases of the infringement of spiritual human rights, any spiritual movement which is increasing in popularity and also, encourages their practitioners to develop an inner freedom, is considered a threat to those governments still existing under corrupt regimes, whether they maybe under the guise of a kind of ‘democracy’ or in this case, a clear cut Communist rule.

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European Parliament Intergroup on FORB&RT

European Parliament Intergroup presents its first Freedom of Religion or Belief World Report

Soteria International took part today in the presentation of the first Freedom of Religion or Belief World Report done by The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance (EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT)

We reproduce here their press release of the event:

European Parliament Intergroup presents its first Freedom of Religion or Belief World Report

(03.06.2015) - The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance (EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT) presented its first Annual Report on the 'State of Freedom of Religion or Belief' at an event hosted by the Intergroup in collaboration with United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Speakers included the Chairs of the EP Intergroup on FoRB & RT and USCIRF as well as the Director of Human Rights at the European External Action Service (EEAS).

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Witch-hunt effects in society - part 1

Spiritual Minorities and sexual abuse? by André Tarassi - CICNS

We will bring a series of articles regarding the witch-hunt effects in society, displacing the rule of law, when spiritual groups are confronted with allegations of sexual abuse.

We start with an article by André Tarassi published by “Centre d'Information et de Conseil des Nouvelles Spiritualités” – CICNS, in 2006.

"Spiritual Minorities and sexual abuse?

By André Tarassi

Anne A. Simpkinson, whose remarks are intended to denounce sexual deviance in spiritual groups in the United States, says in her book "Betrayal of the Soul": In the mid-1980s, the wave of articles detailing the accusations against Catholic priests about their conduct with teenagers, has unleashed a series of revelations about the behaviour of many spiritual authorities in almost all religions. Since then, new charges arise regularly. There is hardly a month without something new emerging about a priest, a rabbi, a pastor, a rishi or accused swami resigning because of sexual abuse.  It would be tempting to point to one group or another and say "it's their fault, if we put them all in prison if they were eliminated, there would be no more of this abuse!”

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The Situation of Fundamental Rights in the European Union

Public hearing on fundamental rights in the European Union

On March 30, an important event was hosted by the European Parliament, a public hearing on fundamental rights in the European Union.

The main goal of this public hearing was to contribute to the on-going dialogue on the mechanisms and methods meant to better defend the rule of law and the fundamental rights of people in the Union, and to allow for an assessment of the Union's efforts to guard and promote its common values.

The public hearing has gathered institutional actors, researchers and organisations of the civil society to discuss the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. The first session focused on the Union's recent initiatives to protect and promote fundamental rights and the rule of law and on the Union's institutional framework in this field. Among the spokespersons were: First Vice-President of the Commission - Timmermans, Chair of Council's Working Party on Fundamental Rights, Citizens Rights and Free Movement of Persons (EU accession to ECHR) - Kristīne Līce, Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice - Kokott, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights - Muižnieks, and Amnesty International. The second session focused on specific threats to fundamental rights in the European Union, rallying the Fundamental Rights Agency, organisations of civil society and several experts. One also presented the recent study on "The impact of the crisis on fundamental rights across the Member States of the EU," conducted at LIBE's request.

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Frans Timmermans’ intervention during the Inter-religious Dialogue on 24 March 2015

The First Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights, Frans Timmermans participated to the „Inter-religious Dialogue” event which took place in the European Parliament on 24 March 2015.

Here is his intervention in its entirety:

“That was a very powerful speech (referring to the intervention of Mr. Schulz, the President of the European Parliament), I don’t know what we might add to what you already said. Just to underscore what Martin Schulz has just said. I profoundly believe in his message. I also profoundly believe in the fact that we face arguably the biggest challenge to European society since the end of the Second World War.

It is an element of human nature and especially an element in European history that whenever we are in trouble we go and look for someone to blame and traditionally we start with the Jews. You would have thought, 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz that we would have lost that part of our tradition, but apparently we haven’t.

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The Inter-Religious Dialogue – important event hosted in the European Parliament

On Tuesday, 24th March, in Brussels, the European Parliament hosted a conference of MEPs and religious community leaders with a very actual subject in debate, namely “The rise of religious radicalism and fundamentalism and the role of inter-religious dialogue in the promotion of tolerance and respect for human dignity”.

The conference has been opened by the Parliament’s First President, Mr Antonio Tajani and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mrs Federica Mogherini.

The event had 2 parts, first part was about “The rise of religious radicalism and fundamentalism” led by Mr Elmar Brok, the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the second part presented the subject „Promoting tolerance and respect for human dignity” led by Mr Claude Moraes, the Chairman of the Committee on Civil liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

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A call to peace among all communities

Following the regrettable events that took place lately in Paris, Verviers or Copenhagen, high representatives of various religions, Christians, Jews, Islamists but also of the laity, together with important political figures, by the side of four thousand citizens, all united under the common slogan “Together in Peace – Liberté et respect” have demonstrated in Brussels, hand in hand, on the 15th of March 2015, against any act of terrorism. The demonstrators have passed on their route by a number of places of worship in Brussels, as the El-Jadid Mosque, the Orthodox Cathedral on the Stalingradlaan, the Our Lady of the Zavel Church and Brussels’ main Synagogue on the Regentschapstraat.

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The European Parliament adopted Annual Report 2014 on Human Rights and Democracy

Soteria International is pleased to see that the European Parliament  adopted the Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy done by The European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance.

In this report, important religious global issues are being addressed, such as the escalating persecution of religious or belief minorities by ISIS and the continued human rights violations of Rohinya Muslims in Burma.

However, we hope coming reports will include also other religious and spiritual groups whose rights have been violated, such as Yoga practitioners, Baha’is and other less publicised spiritual and religious minorities. 

Also, it is a striking lack that the EU does not make any report on the blatant and increasing violations of freedom of religion and belief inside the European Union.

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European Commission answered to the common letter regarding the misunderstanding of volunteer work

At the OSCE HDIM 2014 Soteria International presented several situations where volunteer work is abusively prosecuted as human trafficking and labour exploitation, when undertaken by spiritual seekers. Since the side event in Warszaw, the topic has been further highlighted in interreligious roundtable discussions in Brussels.

In January 2015 Soteria International composed a letter signed by 36 NGOs and indiviuals, religious leaders, human rights advocates and  practitioners addressed to the European Commission. The letter presented briefly cases from Italy, Germany and Romania.

The First Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Frans Timmermans, answered in the begining of March 2015 making reference of the principle of subsidiarity.

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Romanian court completely acquits the 21 people from MISA yoga school accused of human trafficking

After more than 10 years, the Romanian court completely acquitted the 21 people from MISA yoga school, accused of human trafficking.  For ten years, the media has continued a witch hunt on MISA yoga school, who is now fully acquitted of all accusations. The decision found much of the evidence put forth by the prosecution to be unfounded or illegal. Again we face a large scale fake-trial against a spiritual movement, with grave violations of the fundamental rights of thousands of yoga practitioners.
The trial was part of the internationally questioned Romanian campaign against the MISA yoga school. The campaign started in 2004 with the largest police action in post-communist Romanian history. Under the pretext of national security, 300 armed gendarmes raided 16 private houses belonging to yogis.

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What do MEPs do with their beliefs?

On 27th January 2015, Soteria International attended an event at the European Parliament with the subject of ‘What do MEPs do with their beliefs?’ It was an event hosted by the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Religious Tolerance. This included a presentation of a survey amongst MEPs by Professor Foret, coordinator of religion at the European Parliament Project.

Dennis de Jong MEP, the host of the event, emphasised the importance of this study saying that it was the first time that religion was looked at in the life of an MEP. He said for many MEPs religion remains something that they keep at home and there is also a consensus to leave things as they are and to regulate spirituality at home i.e. for some they choose to see that the EU is not the place for religious affairs.  He observed that possibly  new member states are more conservative and less secularised that old member states. And he mentioned that we should be aware to differentiate between religious influences and cultural differences e.g. in the case of Turkey. He also underlined that the survey is not entirely reliable when only 20% of the MEPs completed the survey.

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Common letter adressed to European Commission regarding the misunderstanding of volunteer work

Throughout the years, Soteria International have encountered several situations where volunteer work is prosecuted as human trafficking and labour exploitation, when undertaken by spiritual seekers. We will present here briefly cases from Italy, Germany and Romania.

The idea of this common letter surfaced during discussions at the latest roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom), where amongst many other matters we discussed the difficult situation of voluntary work in our society, when performed as part of a spiritual or religious path.

We will address the European authorities to solve this principle violation of fundamental rights.

This common letter will be signed by a large number of NGOs from the IRF and elsewhere, and sent to the European Commission.

If you want to support this project, please send us an email before Friday next week (30 January 2015), in which you mention  your organization, or if you individually, will be amongst those signing this joint letter.

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Twelve Tribes - Germany

Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts - FOREF Report

On 23rd October 2014, during discussions at the latest Roundtable at the IRF (International Religious Freedom Roundtable), amongst many other matters, we were informed by the representatives of „Twelve Tribes” of their difficult situation in Germany.

The IRF Roundtable is an informal group of individuals from non-governmental organisations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues on a non-attribution basis.  It is simply a safe space where participants gather, speak freely in sharing ideas and information, and propose joint advocacy actions to address specific IRF issues and problems.

 Not very late after this discussion, we received the report done by FOREF - Forum for Religious Freedom Europe regarding the “Twelve Tribes” case.

 Here is part of this report:

GERMANY: Controversy Surrounding “Twelve Tribes” – Sociologist Warns against Targeted Misinformation by Sect Experts - FOREF Reports Exclusively

FOREF (01.01.2015) - A good 20 years ago, a branch of the religious community "Twelve Tribes" was established in Germany. In August 2013, the community was prohibited from running a school of their own since they discipline their children corporally - although in a soft manner, as the community emphasizes.

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F.O.B. takes action about the misuse of the term „cult”

Since last summer, Soteria International is one of the members of  the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FoB) which is a free society of culture and information independent from any party. The association is inspired by the principles of democratic participation, of solidarity and social promotion, of autonomy and responsibility.

Recently, FoB took action regarding the continuous misunderstanding or misuse of some terms, eg “cult”.

Here it is the open letter:

F.O.B. letter sent to the director of the weekly magazine L’Espresso

Dear Director,

FOB (Freedom Of Belief) wishes to express their deep shock at the article “Cults and gurus grow up – the institutions turn a blind eye” by Carmine Gazzanni, published by your magazine on the 8th of January 2015. The word “cult”, whose use was already discouraged as long as fifteen years ago by the Council of Europe, is devoid of any scientific value and is used solely to arbitrarily stigmatize some religious minorities. This kind of propaganda already generated several violations of human rights in our continent as well as in our country: since two years the Italy case is being carried out at the OSCE, due to the persecution of harmless groups labeled as “cults”.

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