by Massimo Introvigne — On November 27, 2020, FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, an umbrella organization for anti-cult movements in Europe and beyond, significantly funded by the French government, lost a landmark case at the District Court of Hamburg, in Germany, where it was found guilty of 18 counts of untrue factual allegations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On May 24, 2021, Bitter Winter published a commentary of the decision. On May 30, 2021, i.e., six days after Bitter Winter’s article (and six months after the decision, proving that it was indeed answering Bitter Winter, and without our article it would never have commented the judgement in public), FECRIS published a press release about the case.
by Massimo Introvigne — In a previous article reviewing the recently published report for the years 2018–2020 of the French MIVILUDES, the French Inter-ministerial mission for monitoring and combating cultic deviances (dérives sectaires), I noted how it suffers from a fundamental methodological problem. The report is a building built using as bricks the saisines, i.e., the complaints against a religious movement that everybody can send to the MIVILUDES by letter or by using an online form. For pages and pages, the report summarizes and quotes the saisines. There is no indication that the saisines have been verified by confronting them with the existing scholarly literature on the accused religious movements, or by interviewing members in good standing of the religious organizations, who may have a totally different point of view.
by Massimo Introvigne — On May 23, 2021, the Justice Court of Rome issued a decision in the case RGN 76320/2016 whose grounds have now been published, in a case of “ostracism” of a former member by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Ostracism” and “shunning” are the terms normally used by the opponents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and are also often used by the media, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves do not use them. The plaintiff had sent a letter in 2011 to both his local and the national Italian organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses resigning as a member of the Association Christian Congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the letter, he stated that he still believed in the main doctrines taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although he no longer wanted to be a member of the organization (a contradictory statement, because that a believer should be part of the organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is precisely a “main doctrine” for them).
The report that our French partner CAP Liberté de Conscience presented to the UN Human Rights Council recommending that the state funding of anti-cult associations, in particular the French association FECRIS, be stopped, has triggered a series of articles revealing the excesses of anti-cults. Today we publish FECRIS and affiliates: Defamation is in their DNA, an article by Willy Fautré, director and co-founder of Human Rights Withou Fronties International, which lists a series of convictions collected by FECRIS in various European courts. We do not add anything more and leave it to the reader to get a personal idea of these "champions" of the alleged victims of the equally alleged "cults" (an ambiguous term that lends itself well to the hate campaigns of anti-cults).
by Massimo Introvigne — FECRIS, the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects, is an umbrella organization for anti-cult movements in Europe and beyond. It is significantly funded by the French government, and has been identified by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as a main international threat to religious liberty. When FECRIS branches are sued, they often claim that these are futile litigations started by “cults” with the only purpose of harassing them, since anti-cult movements serve a public function, and their exposes of “cults” are protected by free speech laws.
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 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.
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 — 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.
The Supreme Court: the principle applies even if the patient's life is at risk.
by Steno Sari — A sensational ruling by the Court of Cassation, which puts to rest the doubts and fears of medical practitioners regarding Jehovah's Witnesses' dissent to blood transfusions. Judgment 29469/2020 was discussed on 19 March 2020 in a webinar held at the Risk Management Forum, organised by the Società Italiana Medico Giuridica (Italian Medical and Legal Society). The case dates back to 2004 and concerns a woman giving birth who had refused blood transfusions both verbally and in writing.
by Halya Coynash — A Russian-controlled court in Simferopol has placed 42-year-old Ukrainian Taras Kuzio under house arrest following mass armed searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in occupied Yalta. The occupation regime has slightly varied the charge this time, although Kuzio is facing the same persecution as other believers for practising his faith. The hearing on 12 March at the ‘Kievsky District Court’ took place behind closed doors, and with a lawyer appointed by the ‘investigators’.
by Massimo Introvigne — The decision rendered on March 16, 2021 by the Court of Ghent in Belgium, which states that suggesting that current members of a religious organization do not associate with ex-members who have been disfellowshipped or have left the organization amounts to discrimination and incitement to hatred, is not dangerous for the religious liberty of Jehovah’s Witnesses only. It represents a danger for all religions, not only because of the intrusion into the sphere of autonomy of a religious body (discussed in the second article of this series), but also because the practice of “shunning” so-called “apostate” ex-members (a technical term used by sociologists without any negative implication) is hardly unique to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
by Massimo Introvigne — Imagine if Cheng Quanguo, the CCP Secretary in Xinjiang who is under sanctions in the United States for his crimes against humanity, appeared in the West claiming he is persecuted by the Uyghurs and their friends in the democratic world, and hailing his concentration camps as model practices other countries should imitate. Or, in the 1930s, if Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels had lectured at a conference in Paris introducing themselves as victims of a persecution by the Jews, their American supporters, and the scholars who had written against Nazi anti-Semitism. Comedians who would propose this as a satirical show would be accused of bad taste.
by Willy Fautré — On 16 February, a trial started against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW) at the criminal court of Ghent (East Flanders) on the alleged grounds of discrimination and incitement to hatred with a particular focus on their shunning (ostracization) practice in cases of disfellowshipping (exclusion) and disassociation (voluntary resignation).
The French and Taiwanese experiences are not isolated. The tactic of using the tax system (very often already oppressive for all citizens) is used practically everywhere. Stigmatizing the target of one's aggression a tax evader has the obvious purpose of making him unpopular and justifying the limitation of his rights. Today we publish this interesting analysis by Christine Mirre, deputy director of FOB sister company CAP-LC (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience), a United Nations ECOSOC-accredited NGO.
One of the tragic aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the limitation of individual freedoms at almost all latitudes. In some countries this adds up to the deplorable and blamed limitations on freedom of belief. The 2020 report on the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia tells of a long history of abuses that do not seem to diminish, indeed, they seem to be getting worse and worse.
Below is a 2020 year-end report illustrating the scope of Russia’s crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses. For its incessant persecution of Witnesses, among other offenses, Russia is listed on UN Watch’s 2020 “Top 10 Human Rights Abusers.”
As of December 31, 2020 (Russia and Crimea):
Despite criticism it has received from mainline international scholars of new religious movements, anti-cultism is a dominant force in Russia. Its origins date back to the repression of groups labeled as sekty in the Russian Empire. In Soviet times, the State dealt directly with religious groups it regarded as dangerous, and offers of collaboration by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) were rejected. However, cooperation between the ROC and the State in the fight against “cults” was resumed in the 21st century, and focused particularly on Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On December 10, 2020, we announced an appeal signed by 14 NGOs, including FOB, to the authorities of China, Iran and Russia to release the religious prisoners, at risk of being infected with COVID-19. This appeal was based on HRWF's annual report: “In Prison for Their Faith 2020”. Today we are publishing a brief summary of the HRWF report.