The Ghent Case Against the Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Chronology

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.

A Campaign to Discriminate Religious Charities in Australia

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.”

China Keeps Being Accused of Genocide by Politicians All Over the World

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.

Diluting Tibetan Buddhism to Cancel an Entire People

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.

Prohibition of homeschooling canceled in Commission at the Senate

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.

The Ghent Jehovah’s Witnesses Decision: Big Brother Is Watching You

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.

French Anti-Cultism Exported to Switzerland

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.

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.

French Law on “Separatism”: Amendment Battles in the Senate

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.

The EU Sanctions Chinese Officers for Xinjiang Atrocities, the CCP Reacts

by Marco Respinti — For once, we agree with the Global Times, the daily voice of the CCP in English. The decision taken on Monday, March 22, 2021 by the European Union Council (after a meeting of the foreign ministers of the European Union), to sanction Chinese officers guilty of human rights violation hit “a heavy blow to bilateral relations between the two sides.” On Monday, the European Union imposed “restrictive measures on eleven individuals and four entities” (the Global Times wrongly mentioned 10 individuals) “responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses in various countries around the world.” Among the indicted countries, the Peoples’ Republic of China looms large with four persons and one entity found guilty of “large-scale arbitrary detentions of, in particular, Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”

Amnesty International USA Applauds Virginia for Abolishing the Death Penalty

Reacting to news that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in the Commonwealth, Kristina Roth, Senior Advocate for Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty International USA, released the following statement:

“We welcome this news. The death penalty is irreversible, it is ineffective, and it does not deter crime. The way the death penalty is carried out is painful, violent, and inhumane, and it is targeted in this country disproportionately against communities of color. The use of the death penalty as a punishment is outdated, fundamentally broken and must end once and for all.

Jehovah's Witnesses have the right to refuse transfusions

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.

UK Genocide Amendment: in the end, economic interests prevailed over Human Rights

In the end, economic interests prevailed over human rights. The genocide amendment to the British Trade Bill, strongly advocated by Lord Alton who had proposed it, foundered, albeit slightly, under the blows of the commercial interests of Her Majesty's Government. Apparently, the "vile money" has triumphed once again. A few minutes before the debate on the Trade Bill, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced the UK's decision to join 29 other states in sanctioning Chinese officials for complicity in atrocities against the Uighur population in Xinjiang. To some, however, it appeared to be an attempt, if not an actual signal, to channel the vote on the amendment toward a favorable outcome for the government.

US Congress Re-Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Stop Organ Harvesting in China

by Marco Respinti — In the last few weeks, things seem to have accelerated and concerns about all the different crimes committed by the Chinese regime are growing across the world. On March 10, 2021, the 117th US Congress in Washington, D.C., acted to confront one of the most heinous deeds ordered by the CCP against its own citizens, i.e. organ harvesting, which targets especially Falun Gong practitioners, but also others, chiefly Uyghurs and other Turkic people in Xinjiang, which its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkestan, and believers of The Church of Almighty God.

Pakistan: Adventist Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy

by Massimo Introvigne — Is life imprisonment an adequate punishment in Pakistan for sending an SMS critical of Prophet Muhammad? No, said last week the Lahore High Court: only the death sentence would do. Sajjad Masih Gill is a 35-year Seventh-day Adventist from the district of Pakpatan, in the province of Punjab. In 2011, he was accused of having sent blasphemous SMS defaming Prophet Muhammad and arrested. The police did not find any evidence in his cell phone that the SMS had in fact been sent, but said it had been able to trace the messages back to his phone number through a cellphone tower. He and his lawyers maintained he had simply been framed as part of a crackdown on the Adventist community.

Russia intensifies persecution for reading the Bible in occupied Crimea

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’.

The Ghent Jehovah’s Witness Decision: Dangerous for All Religions

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.

The timeless "vice" of the German government to discriminate and persecute minorities

Speech by CAP LC (Coordination des Associations et des Partiuliers pur la Liberté the Conscience) at the 46th Meeting of the Human Right Council on religious discrimination perpetrated by the German government.

Dear Madame Présidente, In Germany, the State continues to discriminate minority religions by condoning the use of the infamous « sect filters » since decades. German government bodies and officials continue with practices which are far reaching and wide-spread with no professionals in Bavaria able to participate in a government bid, without signing a sect filter.

The French Government instigates and finances the discriminatory activities of the FECRIS

Speech by CAP LC (Coordination des Associations et des Partiuliers pur la Liberté the Conscience) at the 46th Meeting of the Human Right Council on religious discrimination instigated by a French government body and by the controversial FECRIS.

Mister President, We would like to draw your attention to a part of the debate generated by the fight against terrorism and separatism in France. Civil society is concerned about the direction taken in debates on separatism with regards to individual liberties and religious freedom.

Russian Repression of Religious Minorities Promoted in Paris

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.