Posts Tagged ‘freedom from religion’

Freedom from religion: Vatican legally and morally wrong

March 29, 2018

In response IHEU’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, corrected the Holy See listing the established rights which constitute freedom from religion, and highlighted why freedom from religion is so necessary for those professing no religious beliefs around the world: “freedom from coercion to adopt a religion is protected by law; freedom to have no religion is protected by law; freedom to leave a religion is protected by law; and freedom to criticise a religion is protected by law.”

She also noted that in his own comments to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion of Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, also corrected the Holy See. Shaheed stated categorically that freedom from religion is protected by the right to freedom of religion or belief. Dr Shaheed mentioned specifically how humanist, atheist and secular bloggers are under attack, and that the right to freedom of religion or belief protects the individual, not the religion or belief itself.

In her statement, O’Casey went on to highlight just why statements such as those made by the Holy See are so objectionable and dangerous; especially in the context of state-based hate and a culture of impunity allowing for violence against those who have no religious beliefs. O’casey reminded the Council that 85 countries severely discriminate against non-religious individuals whilst seven countries were found to actively persecute the non-religious during last year. She also reminded the Council of the situation of those jailed in states such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran for being atheist or humanist, and the brutal murder of so many secularists and rationalists with impunity in Bangladesh, India and the Maldives. O’Casey also mentioned Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia and Cyprus in their promoting state hatred against atheists and humanists.

In the light of this situation, O’Casey asked how many more humanists, atheists and secularists need to be killed, imprisoned, persecuted and disproportionately targeted for the international community to begin to understand the absolute importance of freedom of religion or belief for those with no religion? She concluded, “so long as the rest of the international community stay silent, the rights of the invisible minority of non-believers across the world will continue to be trampled upon, including by members of this Council.” The full text of O’Casey’s statement can be seen through the link below.

In this context it was interesting to see that in the UK a Burnley vicar, who has campaigned to expose sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Church of England, has been named Secularist of the Year! The Rev Graham Sawyer, who is the vicar of St James’ Church, was one of two joint winners presented with a £5,000 prize at a lunch hosted by the National Secular Society. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who won the award in 2012, presented the prize at the event in central London.

Where is the beef? In tolerance..

April 13, 2017

Living in Greece where the big feast of Orthodox Easter is preceded by various fasting habits, especially in the last week, the issue of tolerance of other religions or customs came up. Especially when the Greek Atheists Association organizes a Meat Supper event on Good Friday, the day when Greek Orthodox are supposed to keep a very strict Lent avoiding to consume even oil. They call the event “The Disclosed Supper” in opposition to the Last Supper which in Greek is “Secret Supper.” Although church representatives and several news outlets commented negatively on the ‘counter celebration’, I am not aware of any official sanction or threat of violence.

Then I read that human rights activist Bondita Acharya in India said she has been threatened by some Bajrang Dal activists and individuals ‘propagating Hindutva’ for expressing her opinion about eating beef on the social media.
Acharya said she has already lodged a complaint with the CID and Jorhat Police. As a resident of Jorhat district, Acharya said Bajrang Dal has also demanded a public apology from her for hurting the sentiments of the Hindus through her comments on the recent arrest of three persons in Jorhat for carrying beef. “After the incident, I spoke to some people from the minority community who were shocked. Many of us were sharing our views on beef and I expressed my opinion. The arrests were made to target the Muslims only and so I wrote that I am from Jorhat and I eat beef. Then all of us should be put in jail,” added Acharya, the northeast coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA). She is also associated with rights organization Women in Governance (WinG)-India. WinG-India’s statement said, “She was criminally intimidated and defamed with threats of death, gang rape and acid attack.” Bajrang Dal, however, denied issuing such threats. But it said it strongly opposed Acharya’s comments on beef as cows are worshipped as ‘gau mata’ by the Hindus.  “…. Through her comments, she wanted to divide society and also hurt the sentiments of 130 crore Hindus. We will keep opposing comments which hurt the Hindu sentiments,” said Assam Bajrang Dal assistant convener Dhrubajyoti Kalita.

Happy Easter….


Saudi Arabia criticises Norway over human rights record: that is news..

April 30, 2014

Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed. The gulf state and other islamic countries called for all criticism of religions and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal  in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country. Russia also called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status. All this happened when Norway submitted itself to scrutiny during the current session of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review.

The criticism may sound incongruent for those who know how often Russia and Saudi Arabia figure in reports from human rights defenders, including ib this blog, but – as the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Børge Brende, in Geneva told Norway’s NTB newswire prior to the hearing –  “… that is the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia criticises Norway over human rights record – News – The Independent.

Russian Federation persists in criminal investigation against human rights defender Maxim Efimov

February 5, 2013

On 25 January 2013, the Investigatory Committee of the Republic of Karelia, Russian Federation, resumed the investigation of the criminal case against human rights defender Maxim Efimov. He is charged with “actions aimed at the incitement of national, racial, or religious enmity, abasement of human dignity, and also propaganda of the exceptionality, superiority, or inferiority of individuals by reason of their attitude to religion, national, or racial affiliation, if these acts have been committed in public or with the use of mass media”, under Part 1 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

Maxim Efimov

Maxim Efimov is Director of the Karelian regional branch of the inter-regional Youth Human Rights Group (YHRG). He is also Chief Editor of the human rights newspaper Chas nol (Hour zero). The above mentioned charges were brought following the publication by Maxim Efimov of an article in early 2012 regarding the Russian Orthodox Church, in which he criticised state sponsorship of the Church.

On 25 January 2013, investigator A A Voronin decided to reopen the investigation against Maxim Efimov and to seek a sixth expert opinion [SIC] on whether the article published by Maxim Efimov contained any illegal statement. The additional expert opinion was ordered on the basis of the alleged insufficient clarify of five previous expert opinions, which all found that the article did not contain any illegal statement. On 1 February 2013, Maxim Efimov sent a letter to the Director of the Investigatory Committee of Russian Federation, A Bastrykin, protesting the reopening of the investigation.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its concern at the risk of criminal prosecution facing Maxim Efimov, and calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against him. Front Line Defenders believes that the charges and criminal case brought against Maxim Efimov are solely motivated by his legitimate and peaceful human rights work in the Russian Federation, as is evident by the investigator’s failure to accept the unanimous decision by five previous expert opinions declaring that the article published by Maxim Efimov did not contain any illegal statement.

In May 2012 Human Rights First and other NGOs had already reported on sinister efforts – reminiscent of old Soviet practices –  to force activist Maxim Efimov to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in a mental hospital. Ironically, while churchgoers were routinely hospitalized for ‘insanity,” this time it was Efimov’s criticism of the Orthodox Church that triggered his prosecution. Regional human rights group AGORA, whose lawyers represent Efimov, promised to conduct an independent psychiatric evaluation for their client, reminding the government that “the European Court has a clear and unequivocal position in relation to the grounds on which people can be placed in psychiatric hospitals,” which are hardly applicable in this case”. AGORA is preparing to take this case to the Supreme Court of Karelia.

Meanwhile, state pressure on Efimov kept mounting. Two days after an arson attack on the Saint Catherine Cathedral in Petrozavodsk, Efimov was summoned for another round of questioning, and the investigator alleged that the attack was carried out by his supporters—another effort by the government to interfere with his work. Efimov had condemned the attack on the cathedral and sent condolences to congregants and denied any involvement, claiming that his being at the center of this arson investigation is baseless and is yet another example of interference in his daily work as a human rights defender in Karelia.Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

for more information on this case, see Front Line Defenders’ urgent appeals on the case of Maxim Efimov dated  18 April 2012 <>  and updates dated 7 August 2012 <> , 3 July 2012 <>  and 15 May 2012 <> .

What is remarkable but perhaps not surprising is the absence of Christian NGOs in defense of Efimov’s freedom of expression – the more regrettable as it would have the most impact.