By Alessandro Amicarelli — Covid-19 has stopped the world, but it did not stop the persecution of minority groups in several countries. Our organisation, the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) which works with the All Faiths Network, had more work to do denouncing abuses and reporting the perpetrators to protect the victims, whilst keeping on advocating the protection of freedom of religion and belief for everyone.
Tax justice and religious freedom increasingly interact. The European Court of Human Rights is just one jurisdiction that ruled that the tax system cannot be used to discriminate against religious minorities. One of the longest lasting tax cases raising issues of religious liberty involved the Taiwan-based spiritual movement Tai Ji Men.
On 13 November 2020, the All Faiths Network held its yearly Interfaith Week event to celebrate religions in their diverse manifestations as well as demonstrate how religions can work together. This year brought us new challenges with a UK-wide lockdown and many months of disrupted society, so we went on-line to hold a memorable and uplifting 2-hour event. AFN members were determined to rise above all these issues and show that religious communities contribute so much to breaking through the negative surrounding us to bring about a better world.
To Mr Emmanuel Macron
President of the French Republic
Brussels, the 28th October 2020
Eleven NGOs and academic research centers specialized in human rights and religious liberty, two of them with special consultative status at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) wrote on October 28, 2020 to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, protesting an episode on A&E’s History Channel, part of its program “America’s Book of Secrets,” entitled “Cults, Hate Groups, and Secret Societies.” Disney is the co-owner of the A&E Networks, which in turn owns the History Channel.
In 2020, our team published two White Papers on the crackdown on Shincheonji in South Korea after incidents related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We feel that a third White Paper is now needed, as we continue to collect documents and interview witnesses (via Zoom, due to the pandemic’s restrictions), and new developments have followed the arrest and detention of Shincheonji’s founder, Chairman Lee Man Hee.
Eileen Barker, Europe’s most senior scholar of new religions, notes in her entry “New Religious Movements” in the 2020 SAGE Encyclopedia of the Sociology of Religions, that “one does not often see reports of the charitable work in which many of the NRMs engage,” even if it is sometimes “outstanding.” That this happens, is evidence of the phenomenon social scientists call “gatekeeping.” For different reasons, the media filters out news that do not correspond to certain agendas or established stereotypes. New religious movements, derogatorily identified as “cults” are by definition malignant, and cannot do anything good.
Torino, Italy (l.c.) — Fifty leading international scholars of religion have signed an appeal calling for the immediate end of the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, a country where members of the religious organization are routinely arrested and sentenced to terms in jail, and where all activities of their congregation are forbidden.
“Anti-extremism” legislation and religious freedom in the Russian Federation. The case of Jehovah's Witnesses
by Germana Carobene — associate professor of Ecclesiastical and Canon Law at the University of Naples "Federico II", Department of Political Sciences; councillor of FOB. — The application of "anti-extremism" legislation to minority religious groups in the Russian Federation has led to a progressive institutional tightening of the persecution and heavy discrimination, especially against Jehovah's Witnesses.
Tai Ji Men is a spiritual school and highly commended by many personalities in Taiwan. As European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) we deal with cases of discrimination against religious and spiritual minorities and their members too. More than once fiscal and tax issues have been used by governments to the detriment of some groups in order to stop their activities, for instance, when the groups where growing too fast or when they were disliked by the authorities.
On July 9, 2020, the Swiss anti-cult associations JW Opfer Hilfe (Aid to the Victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses) and Fachstelle infoSekta (Center for Information on Cults) issued a press release, announcing that a 2019 decision of the District Court of Zurich had become final, which acquitted Dr. Regina Ruth Spiess, a former employee of infoSekta and current representative of JW Opfer Hilfe, from criminal charges of defamation brought by the Swiss Jehovah’s Witnesses, (JW Opfer Hilfe and Fachstelle infoSekta 2020).
The USCIRF Report on the Anti-cult Ideology, and the Statement of the Conference on the Situation in Russia
By Alessandro AMICARELLI, attorney, London, president of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) — Speech held on September 3, 2020 at the online Seminar “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Opponents: Russia, the West, and Beyond”.
It is my pleasure to introduce the topic of the role of anti-cult organizations’ ideology in the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide and the role of FECRIS and its allies within this field.
A seminar conducted via Zoom has been organized by CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions), Vytautas Magnus University, Vilnius, Lithuania, and New Religions Research and Information Center, Vilnius, Lithuania. At the end of the seminar a Final Statement and a White Paper "The New Gnomes of Zurich" on Jehovah's Witnesses were released.
On July 13, 2020, armed officers raided 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Voronezh Region. This was the largest number of coordinated raids on Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern Russia. Unfortunately, this action marks an escalation in the persecution of the Witness community following the April 20, 2017, ban imposed by the Russian Supreme Court on the Witnesses’ national organization and its 395 regional divisions on grounds of “extremism.”
In the night between July 31 and August 1, 2020 (UTC+09:00), Chairman Lee Man Hee, the founder and leader of the South Korean religious movement Shincheonji, has been arrested.
He is accused of having contributed to his movement’s alleged lack of cooperation with the authorities after a member was infected with COVID-19, of having embezzled funds belonging to Shincheonji for building the Palace of Peace, and of having maintained an event in 2019 that the authorities had asked to cancel because of a “typhoon alert.”
On July 20, a webinar on a new religious movement in South Korea, its political, religious, and social dimensions, and its discrimination during the COVID-19 crisis was organized by CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers. International scholars in the fields of religion, international law, and human rights discussed the theme, “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea.” Speakers at the webinar were Rosita Šorytė, J. Gordon Melton, Massimo Introvigne, Alessandro Amicarelli, Willy Fautré and Ciarán Burke.
Dear Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha:
We represent NGOs and academic research centers specialized in the defense of freedom of religion and belief. We write to you as we are aware of your distinguished career at the United Nations, and appreciate your attention to human rights. We have followed with great concern the problems in South Korea of a new religious movement known as Shincheonji. Some of us have studied Shincheonji for years, and some have produced academic studies about it.
A webinar organized by the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF)
Date/Time: Monday, July 20, 2020, 17:00 (UTC +2, Brussels time)
The fact that one member of Shincheonji, a Christian new religious movement in South Korea, was not timely diagnosed with COVID-19, attended church services, and set in motion a chain of events where thousands of her church's members were infected, led to the government's requests for lists of all members of the group and massive testing.
Report to the United Nations General Assembly on Eliminating Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16)
Dear General Rapporteur:
We are NGOs specialized in defending religious liberty, and scholarly organizations promoting research on new religious movements. We are concerned about discrimination against a Christian new religious movement known as Shincheonji in South Korea (on Shincheonji, see Introvigne 2019, Introvigne 2020).