Friday, December 21, 2007

International Religious Freedom News

glasses off:

Kind of an intense week.

We track these stories and get advance notice on some long before the papers report or we post, obviously. I tend to take them pretty much in stride now, but sometimes when I am editing the week’s newsletter, I realise how outrageous it really is when I see them all in one place. Someone asked me yesterday whether I am just used to it or whether I still get upset with the incongruity, and yes, I suppose I still weary after a week like this.

If you don’t follow these regularly, it might be hard to tell what is really significant, so, I’m including a little cheat sheet this week:

  • The most recent spate of 270 arrests in China are one of many signals that things are getting worse, not better, before the 2008 Olympics, which were supposed to create an incentive for the government to better human rights in China. Instead, the Party seems to be busy whitewashing the public square to make sure there won’t be any trouble next summer.
  • In Kazahkstan, it goes without saying that without registration it’ll be barely legal to be a Jehovah’s Witness, so it’s a fairly severe blow that goes beyond the usual discrimination and constant harassment.
  • In international media, one hears often about the tiny Christian or Baha’i population in Egypt, and not so often about persecution of unorthodox Muslims, but they are also representative of the suppression of dissent evidenced by religious persecution.
  • Yesterday was Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the hajj, and so a particularly bitter day to be reporting that Turkmenistan officials had prevented the large majority of Turkmen Muslims from making the pilgrimage at all.
  • The French case, if it goes up to the ECHR, which it can now that national remedies have been exhausted, would be the rare a non-Muslim religious head dress case to test the headscarves ban that’s spread in several European countries. Sikhs are also less politicised in Europe, so one wonders whether the facts could help convince the Court to overturn bad legal precedent.
  • The quote from Belarus is so explicit, I wish more authorities would just come right out and say what they mean; it exhibits such a misunderstanding of faith as act instead of beginning with conscience.
  • Malaysia I’ve blogged this week, but the resurrection of the Internal Security Act is pretty draconian. Because this point isn’t strictly RF-related, the IRFN doesn’t mention that Rediff reports the Malaysian government is planning to use Interpol to track Hindraf activities abroad.

1. China: 270 Arrested in Raid on Prayer Service (Dec. 11)

2. Kazakhstan: Jehovah’s Witnesses Denied Legal Status (Dec. 12)

3. Egypt: 22 al-Ahbash Detained for “Contempt for Religion” (Dec. 12)

Cairo, Egypt
Reuters reports that 22 men were arrested by Egyptian authorities on charges of “contempt for religion” and “membership in an illegal organization”. The men allegedly belonged to an unorthodox Islamic movement, known as the al-Ahbash sect, which embraced certain beliefs that were out of line with mainstream Islam. Officials reported that the men “possessed literature outlining their beliefs” and were in the process of spreading their beliefs at Egypt’s most prestigious Islamic university, al-Azhar. All of the men are currently still in custody, with eight being questioned by prosecutors.

4. France Upholds Turban Ban for Sikh Students (Dec. 13)

United Sikhs reports that France’s highest court, the Conseil d’Etat, has ruled that the ban on Sikh turbans in French schools was legal. The decision comes three years after three Sikh students were expelled from a high school in Seine-Saint-Denis for wearing the keski, or under-turban, to school, which constituted an “ostensible manifestation of religion”. The court concluded that the students’ permanent expulsion did not constitute “an excessive infringement upon the freedom of thought, conscience and religion” guaranteed in the European Convention of Human Rights, as the French ban was in the interest of secularism and applied to all religious signs, thus rendering it non-discriminatory. To read more about this case and the Becket Fund’s collaboration with United Sikhs in advising the three Sikh schoolboys, click here.

5. Turkmenistan: Government Prevents Muslims from Making Pilgrimage
(Dec. 14)

6. Belarus: “To pray to God they must have a registered place of worship” (Dec. 17)

Baranovichi, Belarus
Forum 18 reports that a Baptist pastor, Dmitry Osyko, received a fine of two weeks’ average wages from the Belarusian government for leading a service in a private home, before an unregistered community. (The owners of the home also received fines of more than one month’s wages). Members of the congregation believe that their right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the Belarusian constitution, and refuse to seek registration, but officials in Baranovichi said that “to pray to God they must have a registered place of worship.” Local ideology officials raided the service, saying that private homes could not serve as places of worship.

7. Malaysia: Detained for “Threatening Racial and Religious Harmony” (Dec. 18)

Feature: How Pakistan’s political system marginalizes religious minorities, from AsiaNews.

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International Religious Freedom Archive from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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