by Massimo Introvigne — There is a different administration from last year in Washington DC but the yearly survey of religious liberty produced by the U.S. Department of State in 2021 (covering events of 2020) is as strong as last year’s report, or stronger. Secretary Blinken introduced the report on May 12 by singling out China as a country that “criminalizes religious expression” in general. Blinken did not avoid two politically significant definitions: “crimes against humanity” for how China treats religion, and “genocide” for what is being done to “Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.”
by Marco Respinti — On April 29, 2021, the US Embassy to Italy in Rome hosted a webinar of its “Transatlantic Thursdays” series, entitled Human Rights in China: the Uyghur Community. Introduced by Kimberly Krhounek, Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Rome, and moderated by Giulia Pompili, Asia-Pacific desk journalist at Il Foglio, two Uyghur panelists took the floor: Rushan Abbas, founder of the Washington-based “Campaign for Uyghurs”, and singer Rahima Mahmut, director of the London, UK, branch of the World Uyghur Congress.
by Massimo Introvigne — In 2020, I published a book about Scientology and the visual arts. I interviewed artists from different countries of the world who are Scientologists. I learned how in Germany artists had their exhibitions cancelled when it was “discovered” that they were Scientologists. For instance, artist Bia Wunderer had an exhibition cancelled in Berg, Bavaria, for the sole reason that she is a Scientologist. Ironically, even Gottfried Helnwein, who will later become a superstar in the art world, with museums all over the world competing for hosting his works, had an art exhibition cancelled in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, in 1997.”
by Alessandro Amicarelli — The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is the most persecuted religious movement in China. Persecution generates refugees, and more than 5,000 CAG members have sought asylum in democratic countries. Not all their cases have been already examined by the authorities, but there are hundreds of available decisions making the CAG a unique case for studying the response to religion-based refugee claims filed by members of a single movement in several different countries.
by Pierluigi Zoccatelli — Reading the articles scholars from different countries have published about the Tai Ji Men case evidences both similarities and differences with the situation in Italy. It seems to me that the Tai Ji Men case has three main features. First, a repression in 1996 of spiritual movements labeled as “cults,” largely dictated by political reasons. In the case of Tai Ji Men, a crucial role was played by a prosecutor who decided to make the case as spectacular as possible, and involved the media from the beginning. Although he had announced that he had uncovered serious crimes, no evidence was found to support his claim, and he even fabricated evidence. In the end, after the courts’ thorough investigations, he lost all his criminal cases against Tai Ji Men, proving his accusations were false.
by Steno Sari — From birth, religious ideas are transmitted to us by our parents, and so the religion we profess as adults almost always becomes a family tradition that often leads us to passively accept the choices decided for us by others. This is a very delicate issue in a State governed by the rule of law like ours, where religious choice and practice is protected by Article 19 of the Constitution. Let's think, for example, of what can happen when, in the case of separation, in a religiously divided home, one parent wants to impart his religious education to his minor child while the other opposes it. A decision of the Court of Cassation, filed in recent days, has upheld the right of a Jehovah's Witness mother to give her minor child his religious education despite the opposition of her separated husband.
by Wang Yichi — In January 2021, at least 123 members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) were arrested by the police in the eastern province of Jiangsu. Many of them were detained in hotels, and subjected to torture during interrogation. A female CAG member was arrested while in a meeting. During interrogation, the police trampled hard on her toes with their leather shoes, and slapped her on the face with book rolls. To extort information about the church, several police officers subjected her to the tortures of “being seated on a chair,” “doing the splits,” and so on.
RUSSIA: A case of violation of the right to freely practice one’s faith in community pending in Strasbourg
by Willy Fautré (HRWF) — The case against a Protestant pastor deprived of his right to organize religious meetings in his home in Russia is pending at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The case was filed by ADF International and is under review of the Court. Over the course of several years, a registered group of Evangelical Christian Baptists used to gather in a private house in Verkhnebakansky in Southern Russia. In September 2018, the local authorities filed a lawsuit against the former owner of the building asking the court to ban its use for religious purposes. The administration claimed that there were violations of fire safety and anti-terror provisions, that the building was registered as a residential house and could not be used as a church.
The French government, in the person of its minister Marlene Schiappa, took a very questionable decision by choosing to increase funding to the "anti-religious police", the controversial ministerial mission called MIVILUDES, now under the ministry of the Interior. Bribing this anti-religious body with French taxpayers' money means directly funding the infamous FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults), which has always been financed largely by MIVILUDES. Let us remember that FECRIS, through its federated micro associations scattered as metastases in dozens of European and non-European countries, has been trying for decades to negatively influence the policies of the governments of these countries with regard to freedom of religion and belief.
For thirty years anti-cult groups and individuals such as Ursula Caberta, Executive of the Task Force on Scientology at the Hamburg Internal Affairs Authority, have generated a climate of persecution against Scientology and various other religious groups by wasting public funds. That task force ceased its activity in 2010, but Ursula Caberta continued to work as a government consultant until 2013, and even afterwards she persisted in spreading intolerance and prejudice far beyond the territory of Hamburg, thanks also to the disinformation campaigns spread by its anti-cult associates, such as the French state funded FECRIS (European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults) which still hosts Caberta's theories on its website.
by Rosita Šorytė — Bernadette Rigal-Cellard is the most well-known specialist of new religious movements in the French academia. She is Professor of North-American Studies and Religious Studies at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne, where in 2005 she founded the multidisciplinary Master Program “Religions and Societies.” She has also studied the relations between religions and literatures, the religious landscape in the United States and Canada, and the transatlantic religious relations between North America and France. In a recent article in Implicit Religion, she tells, not without humor, the story of how, when she entered the “forbidden” domain of the study of Scientology, she started being attacked by anti-cultists.
A Webinar organized by CESNUR (Center for Studies and New Religions) and Human Rights Without Frontiers was held on April 9, 2021. Title of the Webinar was "Jehovah's Witnesses, Shunning, and Religious Liberty: The Ghent Court Decision". Chair was Rosita ŠORYTĖ, European Federation for Freedom of Belief. Speakers were: James T. RICHARDSON, University of Nevada, Reno; Willy FAUTRÉ, Human Rights Without Frontiers, Brussels; George CHRYSSIDES, University of Birmingham and York's St John University; Yannick THIELS, attorney, Brussels; FOB's chairman Alessandro AMICARELLI, attorney, London; Holly FOLK, Western Washington University; Massimo INTROVIGNE, CESNUR, Torino; Eileen BARKER, London School of Economics (em.), London.
by Massimo Introvigne — It is customary in Australia to publish stories about religion for Easter, and The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, both owned by Nine Publishing (the company that resulted from the merger between Nine and Fairfax) obliged by publishing aggressive articles against the Church of Scientology. The articles are a digest of anti-Scientology rhetoric, insisting on what has recently became a curious fad among anti-cultists, the idea that Scientology is “shrinking fast,” what one of the best Australian scholars of new religious movements, Bernard Doherty, has recently called the “historically naïve predictions of its demise.”
By Marco Respinti — Laura Harth, is Campaign Director at Safeguard Defenders, an NGO campaigning for the respect of human rights and the rule of law in Asia, and regional liaison in Italy of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). Holding an M.A in International Law, Human Rights and International Relations, she is among the initiators of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”’s campaign for the universal recognition of the “right to know” as a fundamental right to ensure true democratic participation and full human rights compliance.
By Marco Respinti — Religion is a fundamental feature in determining the culture of a people (for some scholars, the most important). and Tibet is one of those interesting cases in which cultural identity and religion are so intertwined as to make it almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. The Chinese Communist Party knows this all too well, and this is why in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)—the province-level entity of the People’s Republic of China (PRA) which is roughly half of the historic Tibet and not autonomous at all—the endemic warfare against religion (all religions) that characterizes the Chinese regime all over its territory takes the shape of a peculiar political battle against Tibetan Buddhism in all of its forms.
By Patricia Duval — The Bill on “reinforcing abidance with the Principles of the Republic”, which intends to eliminate the root causes of extremist Islamism in France, contained a general prohibition of homeschooling with special and limited exemptions, e.g. based on the child’s health. It specifically provided that no authorization could be granted for philosophical or religious reasons. Not only did this provision miss its target as none of the Islamist terrorists could be traced to have followed a homeschooling cursus (which is not usually accessible to poor families with immigrant background) but it also ran contrary to the international human rights commitments of France, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
by Massimo Introvigne — In California, a woman called Mayra Gomez has been cut off from her family and many friends. Her 21-year-old son told her, “You are no longer my mother,” and informed Mayra she had been permanently excluded from his life. This may look like a case of shunning for religious reason, but it isn’t. Mayra Gomez is a supporter of Donald Trump, while her son and most of her friends voted Democrat. In the heated climate of current American politics, this was reason enough for shunning her. Nor is Mayra’s case isolated. Hundreds of articles reporting similar incidents have been published by American media. They are not short-lived quarrels.
Italian Parliamentarians and civil societies discuss human rights abuse and environmental degradation by China in Tibet and Xinjiang
Geneva: The Italia-Tibet Association in collaboration with Bitter Winter – an online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, the Heritage of Tibet and AREF International organized a virtual event with Italian parliamentarians to discuss the human rights abuse and environmental degradation by China in Tibet and Xinjiang. The event was held on 29 March 2021 from 6 pm to 8 pm local time and was moderated by Claudio Cardelli, President of the Italia-Tibet Association.
by Massimo Introvigne — “Dans l’ombre du covid, la tentation sectaire”: “In the shadow of the COVID, the cults’ temptation.” This was the main title in the front page of the Lausanne daily Le Temps for March 26, reporting on interrogations filed by politicians of different parties to the Grand Council of the Canton of Vaud and the City Council of Lausanne. The politicians quoted recent documents produced by the French governmental anti-cult agency MIVILUDES, that we reviewed and criticized in Bitter Winter. They asked whether the same “cultic deviances” (dérives sectaires) were not at work, taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis, in the Canton of Vaud.
by Massimo Introvigne — Until one month ago, articles on the draft French law against “separatism,” rechristened “Law for the respect of Republican principles,” were being published by mainline international media almost daily. With some colleagues, I had published a first “White Paper” emphasizing problems for religious liberty in the original text, and a second one suggesting that the law may offer a positive opportunity to go beyond the restrictive definition of “religion” prevailing in French case law. Eventually, the objections by French and international scholars, after the French State Council had made similar remarks, were heard by the government, which amended the text by eliminating the most controversial provisions.