Women’s rights in Islam is a growing topic of conversation in Western societies, and it is perceived, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that Muslim women are less equal than their male counterparts. Why do we often hear of violence against women in an Islamic context? Why is that many Muslim women are required to cover their faces? Are there justifiable grounds for these practices?
Soteria International believes in the promotion of spiritual human rights, of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and that everyone has right to enjoy these freedoms, regardless of their gender. Suppression of women within a religious group does not align with the organisation’s ideas of equality in spiritual and human rights.
On Wednesday 3rd May 2017, the European Parliament in Brussels hosted the event, “Are Women's Rights in Islam Compatible with Modern Society: Misconceptions in Islam regarding Women's Rights.” The conference was organised by the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR). Gerry Campbell, Dr Azmayesh and Mattie Heaven were invited to speak about the topic, and the event was sponsored by four MEPs, representing different political parties. After two hours of thought-provoking debate, the speakers concluded that the root of abuses of women’s human rights within Islam lies within misinterpretation of holy texts. The general consensus was that Islam is indeed compatible with modern society, as least as much so as any other religion is.
MEP Esteban González Pons began by acknowledging the importance of women's voices being heard. He argued that it is common sense that women should be at the forefront of the debate when it comes to women's rights issues, yet this is so often not the case. He acknowledged the vital role of education in teaching values of equality between men and women, and in the balanced (as opposed to extremist) interpretation of religious texts.
The Danish Institute for Human Rights has called Freedom of Religion one of the human rights brought into question in Denmark in their 2016 Status Report. A hearing was held at the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen on May 10, 2017 in order to discuss whether or not a Danish model for secularization (separation of the state and church) could be found. Considering the current atmosphere towards disregarding the freedoms of certain religious groups in Europe, Soteria International finds this topic to be of particular relevance to the safeguarding of one of our fundamental human rights, the Freedom of Conscience, Thought, and Belief. Representatives of Soteria International attended the event and our organization feels optimistic that conversations such as this one will help create a more understanding and open society, which can embrace diversity and find solutions which respect the human rights of all individuals involved.
The event, titled “How afraid are we of religion?”, was organized by Grundtvigsk Forum and hosted by Daniel Toft Jakobsen, a Member of Parliament with the Social Democrats. Three questions/issues were suggested prior to the event, including: 1) Should public funding be provided to religious organizations? 2) Should priests/imams/other religious leaders have the right to be judges? And 3) Should there be more or less room for religion in asylum centers? Among other issues, these questions were addressed by a wide panel of experts, including academics, politicians, and professionals.
Daniel Toft Jakobsen opened the hearing by discussion the word ‘religion’ and our modern conceptualization of it. He stated that although it is often associated with “terror, war, and fear” in the media, it can indeed add a very positive aspect to our society. He stated that undemocratic religious opinions must be brought to light rather than being hid away and must not be afraid of the publics ability to discern between peaceful religion and fanaticism. We must therefore continue to uphold the freedom of spirituality.
On May 8, at the United Nations (Geneva), a side event was hosted by Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF), the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF), and Freedom of Conscience (CAP) regarding the case of two Czech yoga teachers – Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova, case which Soteria International has represented and advocated for at the EU and national levels since 2015.
HRWF (09.05.2017) – On the margin of the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines at the United Nations in Geneva, three human rights NGOs – Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels), FOREF-Europe (Vienna) and CAP (France) – organized a side event on 08 May 2017 about the situation of two Czech yoga teachers – Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova – who have been detained for two years in the Immigration Detention Center of Bagong Diwa in Manila.
The facts in brief
On 7 October 2014, Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova were sentenced by the court of first instance in Brno (Czech Republic) to 10 and 9 ½ years in prison for rapes that were allegedly committed in their country of origin more than ten years earlier.
Barbora Plaskova, the mother of a three-year old son, was arrested on 14 April 2015 and Jaroslav Dobes, the father of a five-year old child, on 15 May 2015. Both were deprived of their passport and were hereby left undocumented.
However, on 21 May 2015 (one week after Dobes’ arrest), the High Court of Olomouc ruled on appeal that the judgment of the Court in Brno was “annulled and revoked” and that the case was to be returned “to the court of first instance to make a new decision.”
Two years later, a new trail has yet to be initiated and there is no sign that there will be another one in the near future.
Despite their status of presumption of innocence, the Czech authorities have not given up the idea of deporting them and persistently urge the Filipino authorities to keep them in detention.
Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF) and the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF) are making an appeal to the Russian Supreme Court and Presidential Administration regarding the ban of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. Soteria International supports their action and is publishing their appeal.
FOREF - Europe/HRWF (05.05.2017) - BRUSSELS/VIENNA - The Forum for Religious Freedom - Europe (FOREF) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) urge the Supreme Court of Russia to overturn its 20 April 2017 decision to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses from the country and seize their assets. FOREF and HRWF also call on President Putin and his administration to resort to a "transparent and frank" dialogue to promote better understanding of the nature of the Jehovah's Witnesses, as proposed by the religious group
"The allegation that the Jehovah's Witnesses are an extremist group is transparently false, and the ban should be overturned," argues Dr. Aaron Rhodes, President of FOREF. "The decision not only violates basic human rights obligations, but also puts all Russian citizens at further risk of arbitrary legal judgments. It makes a mockery of their legal system and humiliates Russia on the world stage" he added.
United Nations monitors and other experts agree that neither the doctrines nor the conduct of the Jehovah's Witnesses can be called "extremist" with any credibility whatsoever. On the contrary, the group advocates respect for political and governmental authorities, and keeping clear of political matters.
On May 4th, a public hearing on “Fighting against discrimination of EU citizens in the EU Member States and
protection of minorities” was held in the Committee on Petitions, in which the representatives of Soteria International participated in order to remain up to date with latest findings on discrimination and minority rights. The hearing addressed numerous petitioner allegations of discrimination in the EU, and fundamental rights violations, particularly of Article 21 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. The debated topics included equality and non-discrimination, as defined under EU law and jurisprudence, the protection of minorities (in particular in the field of education), the recognition of LGBT family rights, loss of EU citizenship, and discrimination based on minority languages.
The President of the Committee on Petitions (PETI), Ms. Cecilie Wikström, opened the event by stating that the committee receives many petitions every year on alleged abuses of citizen’s rights to equality and non-discrimination, as stated in the charter. Ms. Wikström emphasized that Article 21 states the principle of equality before the law, and there within is the principle of non-discrimination. She stated that discrimination occurs due to historical and political factors dating back to World War II and that the protection of national minorities is particularly interesting as it is one of the values of the EU, the reason for which these rights exist. Although, the EU has little competence in the actual matter, as the EU regularly points out to petitions on these issues, Ms. Wikström was optimistic that we could find new solutions to fighting discrimination.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French) here.
The case of the “presumed guru" Robert Lé Dinh, as the media have called him, is indicative of how judicial affairs treat “sects" in France.
For more than twenty years, Robert Lé Dinh led a community of roughly 20 people, first in the Lot-et-Garonne, then in Ariège, before becoming the subject of a complaint and being placed in custody on September 5, 2007 and, two days later, put under review and placed in pre-trial detention. The case started in April 2007, when two of his former disciples—followers—a couple who were civil servants and who had joined the group from its inception in 1984, denounced his actions and filed a complaint with the GIRONS (Ariège) police. Born in 1959 in Villeneuve (Lot-et-Garonne), the son of a Buddhist worker of Vietnamese origin and a French Catholic mother, is said to have received a divine message from Christ in 1982 making him a "servant" or "the third Messiah" (NouvelObs).
Following this denunciation, Robert Lé Dinh was accused of "rape," "sexual assault," including on minors, "mental hypnosis" (NouvelObs), of "manipulation and influence" (La Dépêche). One of the main complainants, Isabelle Lorenzato (along with her husband), claimed to have been raped for 22 years by Robert Lé Dinh.
The misunderstanding of new religious movements becomes especially dangerous when it occurs on an institutional level. Although the law should protect or condemn an individual based on objective facts, popular opinion and the portrayal of a story in the media can have a devastating impact on the outcome of a person’s future. CICNS argues that the outcome of the following case was greatly affected by the “sectarian” rhetoric in France, which is one of fear.
The text has been extracted from an article published by CICNS, which can be accessed in it's original language (French).
It took no more than three hours for the jurors in the Assize Court of Ariège, on September 18, 2010, to condemn 'the guru' Robert Lé Dinh to 15 years (more than what the Advocate-General had suggested, which was 'ten to twelve years' imprisonment). The accusations were heavy. What are the facts? According to several witnesses in the trial, the accused was not very convincing, he seemed to suit the profile of a 'cult guru' and there was even a form of automatic repulsion from the early days of media coverage of his case. We can't yet say that the evidence is overwhelming. It was all about emotional and "intimate conviction" (the general council stated that "the will of the victims was annihilated". On what basis, the debate on mental manipulation, a pseudo-scientific concept, that has never been decided upon?), elements which do not mix when we really seek justice. Everything leads to the belief that this 51-year-old man sexually abused his followers. Already convicted in 1984 for extortion, this time he was accused of abusing adult women and minor girls. He denied this. Even at the end of the trial, everybody reached this conclusion. Doubt was permitted. The conclusions were provided in the personal opinion of the jurors.