Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Russia May Restrict Missionary Activity

Russia is considering changing laws that would restrict missionary activity. Officials say the measure is to protect people from damaging cults, but there are serious fears over how it will impact on religious freedom.
With the number of followers estimated at well over ten thousand, a man named Vissarion in Eastern Siberia claims to be the Messiah.

And just two years ago, 29 devoted members of a group locked themselves in a bunker in the Penza region, convinced that the end of days was near.
These are just a couple of the examples of what the Duma says is cult activity in modern Russia.

“There are about 80 or 90 cults which are well known and active in at least several provinces of Russia. But if we are talking about local cults that act within one town, or one province or one area of a town, then those can be counted in the thousands,” says cult expert Aleksandr Dvorkin.

In an effort to better protect the people from predatory cults, the State Duma is considering a draft proposed by the Ministry of Justice that limits the ways that religious sects can communicate with people.

“This draft defines what correct missionary activities are. For example it forbids missionary activity on the territory of some other faith or other religious organization, and it forbids recruiting from places where people would be more susceptible – for example in hospitals, mental institutions or the army, for example,” Aleksandr Dvorkin adds.

Ilya Arkhipov, a journalist from Russian Newsweek, expects misinterpretations with the new law.
“There is a danger of misinterpretation and misuse of this legislation as there is no legal definition of a dangerous cult or sect in Russian law,” Arkhipov says.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pres. Obama: Appoint Religious Freedom Ambassador

It has been one year since President Obama was inaugurated, yet he still has not appointed an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

With the recent release of the Open Doors 2010 World Watch List of the worst persecuting countries of Christians in the world, Open Doors USA has launched an advocacy campaign asking President Obama to immediately appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.
As your eyes are opened to the severity of persecution worldwide as exposed in the World Watch List, this petition is one way you can make a difference for persecuted Christians.

In leaving this important position unfilled, President Obama is in violation of U.S. law. In 1998, a unique piece of legislation was passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton called the "International Religious Freedom Act." This bill created a special office called the "Office of International Religious Freedom" within the State Department. This department researches and tracks the state of religious freedom in every country of the world except for the U.S. and produces annual reports on each country.

Each year this department announces a list of the worst violators of religious freedom called "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC). The government has a wide variety of options available to work with each country to improve religious freedom, including creating agreements or imposing sanctions on these CPCs.
The Ambassador at Large overseas this department, engages in diplomacy with countries that suppress religious freedom, helps negotiate within the U.S. government to determine which countries should be named as CPCs and advises on U.S. policy towards each of these countries.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kidnapping and Forced Conversion in Japan Condemned

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy calls upon the government of Japan to bring to a halt the long-term and persistent use of kidnapping and forced confinement of its citizens to deny and changetheir religious beliefs.

It has been reported that just in the Unification Church alone, more than 4,000 members have been victimized to date. Those who have managed to escape often did so at great personal risk.

The approximate 1,300 who returned to their religious communities reported horrific accounts of long-term incarceration, mental and physical abuse and psychological manipulation designed to force them to recant their faith. Currently at least four Unification Church members remain missing and are suspected to be held against their will.

One example of Japan’s religious persecution is the case of Mr. Toru Goto, who was confined for over 12 years against his will in Tokyo and finally gained his freedom in 2008. Mr. Goto was not allowed to leave the illegal private prison, even to exercise, and was deprived of food by his captors, necessitating a prolonged hospital stay when he was finally released.

The perpetrators of this crime are known to the police, and yet on December 9 prosecutors refused to hear the case against them. Their claim of “insufficient evidence” is a travesty of justice and allows those responsible to continue their activities with impunity. Such inaction by the government will almost certainly result in more such kidnappings.

These practices are clearly in violation of international human rights instruments guaranteeing the right to freedom of religion and belief and freedom of movement. Japan is bound to uphold these standards as a member of the international community. Moreover, false imprisonment is a crime in Japan under Article 220 of the Japanese Penal Code. These gross human rights violations threaten to stain Japan’s otherwise exemplary role in promoting and defending fundamental rights around the world.

The Institute strongly urges the immediate and forceful intervention of Japan’s Government, Diet, prosecutors, police, human rights organizations, and religious leaders to put an end to kidnapping and forced religious conversion in Japan.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trial of Baha’i Leaders Begins in Tehran

The trial of seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders finally began January 12th in Iran. Initial reports indicate that the trial has been marked by numerous violations of legal due process.

After about three hours, the hearing ended. Authorities indicated that Tuesday’s proceeding was merely the “first session,” and no date for future sessions was given.

"We understand that no observers were allowed in the court," said Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i International Community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva. "We find this completely outrageous, given that these seven have been held purely because of their religious beliefs, in total contradiction to any human rights standards.

"We understand that even the lawyers had to argue their way inside the court – lawyers who in any case had virtually no access to the accused for nearly two years.

"At the same time, the prisoners' interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence and a film crew were seen going in, raising questions about the nature of the trial," she said.

Ms. Ala'i also noted that an Iranian Web site linked to state-run television posted a story Monday evening announcing that the trial had already begun and listing the same baseless accusations made in the past against the seven.

"In any event, all of these accounts point to a trial that is highly irregular, very similar to the show trials that have been held in Iran in recent months," she said.

The seven are Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naeimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm.

Chinese House Church Leaders Detained

Thirty house church leaders were detained in a northern province in China last week, according to a human rights group specializing in Chinese house churches.

The leaders, which included men and women, were members of the Chinese House Church Alliance, one of the detained pastors reported to ChinaAid Association before security forces were presumed to have confiscated his cell phone during the incident on Jan. 8.

Handan City Public Security and Religious Affairs Bureaus reportedly broke into the leaders’ meeting of the Chinese House Church Alliance that was held in Handan City, Hebei province while they were having Bible study.

One of the detained pastor was able to briefly notify an outside contact about the incident before the call was “abruptly cut off,” according to CAA. The Texas-based rights group believes the pastor’s cell phone was confiscated, as he could not be reached afterwards.

Before the informing pastor was cut off, he reported that the security forces threatened some of the pastors with 15 days of administrative detention.

The Christian Post attempted to reach the Chinese Embassy to confirm the report and for comments, but a response could not be immediately obtained.
Pastor Zhang “Bike” Mingxuan, president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, has called upon the Handan government to immediately release the house church leaders.
There are at least 50 million house church Christians in China, with some estimates saying the number is as high as 100 million.

China’s constitution states that citizens have freedom of religion, but in practice, the right to worship is restricted to religious institutions approved by the government. Protestant Christians can only legally worship in churches registered with the government’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
Christians who refuse to worship in government-sanctioned churches attend “underground” or “house” churches. The number of Christians who worship in house churches far outnumbers those who attend registered churches.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Western Wall Discrimination Decried

Reform rabbis have resolved to protest attacks on religious freedom in 2010 by supporting women who seek to worship equally with men in Jerusalem and Muslims who want to build minarets in Switzerland.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing about 1,800 Reform Jewish clergy in North America, issued a statement Dec. 30 against the treatment of Israeli feminist Nofrat Frankel, who was arrested in November after violating a law against women wearing traditional male prayer shawls and reading the Torah at the Western Wall.

Frankel, a medical student, and other "Women of the Wall" activists argue the holy site should not be operated like an Orthodox synagogue -- with strict gender segregation and restrictions on how women may pray -- because it belongs to all Jews.

On Jan. 10, Women of the Wall supporters plan to hold a 10 a.m. service in San Francisco's Union Square and other cities. Female worshippers may wear male vestments to demonstrate how some modern women prefer to pray. A similar day of solidarity was organized last month by the Women's Rabbinic Network, a partner of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.