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 — Lithuania, which suffered itself Communist persecution, is the third country in Europe after the Netherlands and the United Kingdom whose Parliament has officially declared the horrors China is inflicting on the Uyghurs a “genocide.” Outside Europe, similar declarations came from the United States and Canada. The vote of May 20 by the Lithuanian Parliament is important, because Lithuania is the first country that is part of the Belt and Road Initiative to take such a brave stand on the Uyghur genocide.
by Massimo Introvigne — New religious movements significantly contributed, disproportionately with respect to the number of their members, to the birth and progress of modernist art. Among many artists who were Spiritualists, Theosophists, Rosicrucians, or followers of other spiritual movements—the list includes such luminaries as Piet Mondrian and Giacomo Balla, who were members of different branches of Theosophy—the Swedish painter Ivan Aguéli is a special case. He remained little known outside specialized circles for decades after his death in 1917, but has then been honored in Sweden by a museum in Sala, the town where he was born in 1869, and even stamps by the Swedish Postal Service.
by Massimo Introvigne — There are countless books on how new religions are born, something that happens almost every week in the world. But how do religions die? A new book The Demise of Religion: How Religions End, Die, or Dissipate (London and New York: Bloomsbury) edited by well-known scholars of new religious movements Michael Stausberg, Stuart A. Wright, and Carole M. Cusack addresses this fascinating question through an introduction and nine chapters presenting case studies. Being myself a scholar specialized in new religious movements, I find all chapters fascinating. The case studies confirm what previous research amply demonstrated. Religions do not die when their charismatic leaders die, nor when their prophecies fail.
by Massimo Introvigne — On April 30, 681 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of a motion censoring Pakistan for its human rights and religious liberty violations. Only three MEPs opposed it. The motion focuses on Pakistan’s law on blasphemy, and on the case of the Christian couple Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel. They were arrested in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014 for blasphemy. The case originated from messages insulting Prophet Muhammad sent to a Muslim cleric using a SIM card registered in Shagufta’s name. However, the couple denies any knowledge of the messages, and claims that the SIM card was purchased and used by an unknown person who impersonated Shagufta when registering it.
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.
April 25th is a historical date, but it could also be considered a "historical oxymoron": the Italian people celebrate the anniversary of the liberation, while the Tibetan people celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the youngest political prisoner in the world, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, 11th Panchem Lama of Tibet. Recognized as the reincarnation of Tibet's second highest religious authority, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was officially instated by the Dalai Lama on May 14, 1995. A few days later he "disappeared" along with his entire family and has not been heard from since. This deplorable disappearance swells the number of "desaparecidos" at the hands of the intolerant Chinese Communist regime. FOB joins the general outrage that this event arouses in those who firmly believe in human rights and in the value of freedom in all its forms, and strongly calls for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and all the Tibetan people.
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.