Jan 15, 2016

Behind bars for their faith in 20 countries

EU Today 
January 3, 2016

China and Iran are the two countries in which the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers Int’l has identified the highest number of believers imprisoned for exercising their basic rights to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).

The violations are detailed in the NGO’s last annual prisoners’ list “Behind Bars for their Faith in 20 Countries” published on 4 January.

The list comprises more than 1,500 names of believers of 15 religious denominations, including atheists, who were imprisoned for activities protected by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration and Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights: freedom to change religion or belief, freedom to share one’s religion or beliefs, freedom of association, freedom of worship and assembly, or conscientious objection to military service.

Some 20 countries in all were identified by HRWF for depriving believers and atheists of their freedom in 2015.

They are Azerbaijan, Bhutan, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

In China, five religious denominations are particularly persecuted, says the report.

It says, “Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners, whose movement was banned in 1999, are put in prison by the masses but Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants belonging to the mushrooming network of underground house churches outside of state control also pay a heavy toll. A dozen Catholic priests and bishops arrested by the police many years ago for being faithful to the Pope and their failure to swear allegiance to the Communist Party are still missing to date. Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, systematically suspected of separatism and/or terrorism, are also particular targets of the regime.

“In Iran, seven denominations are victims of harsh repression. The Baha’is, whose movement is considered a heresy of Islam, provide the highest number ofprisoners. They are followed by the Sufis, the Sunnis, as well as home-grown Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians who extensively carry out missionary activities among their fellow citizens despite the risk of imprisonment, torture and execution. Shia dissidents, members of Erfan-e-Halghe and Zoroastrians are also repressed by the theocratic regime of Tehran.”

The report goes on, “It is worth mentioning that North Korea remains a black spot on the map of religious persecution as access to information about North Korean prisoners of conscience is impossible. What is known however is that in 2015 four foreign Christians (one Canadian and three South Korean pastors) were serving a prison term for attempting to carry out missionary activities in North Korea. Hyeon Soo Lim from Toronto was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2015 and Kim Jeong-Wook to hard labour for life.

Commenting on the report, HRWF director Willy Fautre said, “These cases are only the tip of the tip of the iceberg but North Korean Christians belonging to underground house churches are also regularly arrested.”

According to the 400-page report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) into Human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK), “Countless numbers of persons in North Korea who attempt to practice their religious beliefs have been severely punished, even unto death.”

HRWF has also identified 15 religious denominations that are victims of state repression.

In 2015, 555 Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison in South Korea for refusing to perform military service and there were 54 more in Eritrea.

Falun Gong practitioners and Baha’is can be said to hold the record of the highest number of prisoners in one and the same country: respectively China and Iran.

Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants were behind bars in at least 12 countries: Bhutan, China, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Laos, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Sunni Muslims belonging to various sects, in particular Tablighi Jamaat and Said Nursi followers, are also serving long terms. Members of other minorities are also detained: Ahmadis in Saudi Arabia, atheists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Buddhists in China and in Vietnam, Copts in Eritrea, Zoroastrians in Iran.

HRWF has been monitoring freedom of religion or belief as a non-religious organization for 25 years. In 2015 it covered in its daily newsletter over 60 countries where there were incidents related to freedom of religion or belief, intolerance and discrimination.

Fautre added, “The purpose of our data collection project about faith or belief prisoners is to put an instrument at the disposal of the EU institutions for their advocacy in favor of freedom of religion or belief in the world as requested by the 2013 EU Guidelines.

“Our best wish for the New Year is that the EU and its member states, as well as the international community in general, extensively use our Prisoners’ List 2015 to obtain the early release of the prisoners of conscience identified and documented by our NGO.”

The lists of prisoners per country can be consulted via http://hrwf.eu/forb-intro/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list.


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