On 18 - 19 January took place one of the bigest events in the field of law and human rights, which gathered together 32 speakers from around the world, among which also the representative of Soteria International.
"In the prestigious setting of Sant'Apollonia Auditorium at the homonymous XIV century convent complex located in Via San Gallo, in the historic center of Florence, the international convention of the European Federation for the Freedom of the Belief (FOB) took place, under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (Dr. Thorbjørn Jagland), of the patronage of the Tuscany Regional Council, of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and of the University of Florence.
The Medal of the President of the Italian Republic was conferred to the convention. Prof. Silvio Calzolari (Secretary of FOB), presenting it together with attorney Alessandro Amicarelli (President of FOB), publicly thanked the President of the Republic “for having expressed his appreciation for FOB’s initiative, as an event of particular cultural and social value, through the attribution of a representation prize, a medal, which honors us".
On Monday, January 15, Soteria International attended a side-event following the Universal Periodic Review of France at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. In accordance with the views expressed at this meeting, research conducted by Soteria International has also concluded that French funding of anti-cult organizations, such as FECRIS and its member organizations, leads to stigmatization of spiritual practitions and the violation of the right to Freedom of Religion. This government funded "hate speech" has allowed this discourse to greatly affect the views of society at large, not only in France, but also accross Europe.
CAP/ LC HRWF (15.01.2017) – In a side-event following the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva this Monday 15th January, several NGOs and an international law expert have called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of FECRIS (European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects) and its member organizations. Under the predecessors of President Macron, FECRIS has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.
The representative of the French NGO CAP/LC (Coordination des Associations et des Individus pour la Liberté de Conscience), Mr. Thierry Vallé, highlighted the French policy stigmatizing religious minorities and the human consequences which are often dramatic for the members of these minorities. By financing FECRIS, France contributes to the expansion of this phenomenon in Europe.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, France must reconsider its policy regarding religious minorities, he added.
European Federation for Freedom of Belief - FOB, a Federation of Associations that advocate freedom of thought, religion and belief, will organize, under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, and under the patronage of OSCE - PA, on 18 - 19 January 2018 at Auditorium Sant'Apollonia, Firenze - Via San Gallo, 25/a the International Convention "Law and Freedom of Belief in Europe - An arduous journey".
Presentation of the event:
"Within globalization, within pluralism, in a multi-ethnic society, with the many exoduses and with the diversities bursting into our society, protection of civil rights and especially the right to believe and the right for freedom, have become a crucial need for the European Community and the national governments that comprise it. In an uncertain and volatile reality, that protection is our duty and the duty of each country, and the only way to make it valid and effective all over Europe and in each and every country of the Union, is to have European laws as well as European justice enforcement bodies.
With the differences of laws and rulings of each national government, with the pressures of anti-liberal forces and sometimes of nonsense politics, it is not an easy task, the one we are entitled to. Within the protection (with no shyness) of freedom to believe and freedom of religion, dwells a hope for peace, for pacific cohabitation and reciprocal acknowledgment which alone turns the different, the ‘other’, the unknown, into a comrade, a friend and a fellow citizen.
In such often puzzling protection stands the creation, as well, of the most truthful identity for Europe and its role amongst the nations and continents."
On December 10, Soteria International, Youth for Human Rights Denmark, and ENAR Denmark, hosted the 10th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Human rights activists and spiritual practitioners gathered to discuss the success of the past decade and directions for the future in order to improve on the current situation. The conference was chaired by Konrad Swenninger from Soteria International, who introduced this 10th Annual Spiritual Human Rights Conference by stating the importance of the spiritual aspect of human rights, as mentioned in the preamble to the UN Declaration of Human rights, that spirituality is in fact the base of human rights. Mr. Swenninger gave a short introduction to the topics undertaken in the previous conferences, leading to the topic of this year’s SHR conference, and emphasized the importance of the partnerships and collaborative efforts of the individuals and organizations present.
Several Human Rights NGO's took a stand and began to raise their concern on the persecution of the Church of Almighty God in China, as well as, the propaganda against the group in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Soteria International, together with:
CAP Freedom of Conscience – Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience
CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
CHNK – Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees
EIFRF – European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom
FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees
address their concern to the officials in charge of the situation, as follows:
"NGOs Condemn Persecution in China and Propaganda in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan against the Church of Almighty God
Thousands of members of the Church of Almighty God (CAG) have been incarcerated in China, following a further crackdown on unauthorized religious organizations. According to the rough statistics, more than 300,000 members of CAG were incarcerated and detained in China from the beginning of the persecutions in the 1990s to 2017. Many have been tortured and at least 30 died in custody in suspicious circumstances, according to a report just released by CAG and published by several human rights organizations internationally (see e.g, http://www.cesnur.org/2017/almighty_china_report.pdf). In the last few days, we have seen unprecedented media attacks against CAG published simultaneously in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, which seem to be an answer to the publication of this report.
The Church of Almighty God (CAG) is a new religious movement founded in China in 1991. It teaches that Jesus has returned to the Earth and incarnated as the Almighty God in a living person and is with us today. It also claims that prophecies in the Bible predict the fall of the Chinese Communist regime in China, although it does not advocate any form of armed rebellion. For this reason, CAG, credited by Chinese official sources with a membership of at least three million, has been persecuted massively since at least 1995.
The Chinese regime later started accusing CAG of various crimes, including causing riots based on a prediction that the world would end in 2012 and murdering a woman in a McDonald’s diner in Zhaoyuan in 2014. The recent media campaign repeats these accusations, although scholarly studies have debunked them as egregious examples of fake news spread to discredit CAG. In fact, the group responsible for the 2014 murder used the name “Almighty God,” but was not part of CAG and had different religious beliefs. Even studies hostile to CAG have concluded that, although some CAG believers expected the end of the world for 2012, this was not sanctioned by the leaders, was not part of CAG’s teachings, and did not lead to any riots.
This year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017 in Warsaw, representatives of the Church of Almighty God (CAG), contacted the delegates of Soteria International and presented the challenges their organization was facing in China. It is important to raise concern with regards to their situation and to make their case more known, thus helping them to attend their fundamental rights.
The Church of Almighty God, established in 1991, has released it's annual report "2017 Annual Report on the Chinese Communist Government’s Persecution of the Church of Almighty God"detailing it's persecution in the People's Republic of China. The report provides a history of the persecution of the Church, and documents individual cases of persecution.
We present you here an excerpt of the report , and the entire original report you can access on the Center for Studies on New Religions webpage here: http://www.cesnur.org/2017/almighty_china_report.pdf
"2017 Annual Report on the Chinese Communist Government’s Persecution of the Church of Almighty God
The Church of Almighty God (CAG), also known as Eastern Lightning, has long been one of the most severely persecuted Chinese house churches by the Chinese Communist government. Since its establishment in 1991, the CAG has continued to endure the brutal repression and persecution of the Chinese Communist government. In 1995, the CCP government used trumped-up charges such as “fraud in the name of religion, Qigong” and “deification of their leading members” to condemn the CAG as an “evil cult” and brutally repress and persecute the CAG. According to rough statistics, in just the two short years between 2011 and 2013, the number of Christians of the CAG illegally arrested, detained and sentenced by the Communist Party reached 380,380 people, of which 43,640 people were subjected to various methods of torture at the hands of kangaroo courts, including 13 people who were persecuted to death. As of now, there are already 44 well-documented cases of Christians of the CAG killed by the Communist Party. In 2017, the repression of the CAG by the Communist Party continues to escalate.
Its been ten years. Soteria International has grown steadily in the pursuit of securing fundamental freedoms and Spiritual Human Rights for all.
We want to celebrate a decade of success, as our perspectives have been heard, shared and spread all over Europe. Experts, politicians and human rights activists have shared their faith in our principles and commitment!
Despite the reach of our ideas and the positive feedback that followed, we have witnessed a growing trend in the society towards distrust, fear and suspicion regarding the intrinsic value of spiritual human right. Moreover, this trend is fuelled by mainstream media, and the law-makers and governments around Europe seem more inclined to listen to fear-mongers and social media thought-police.
The risk here is that, for fearing the spontaneous and creative nature of man's spirituality, the State is inclined to trample over the individual's basic human right, and far too often this is done in the name of the 'greater good'. As such, we have witnessed a decade of increased surveillance, increased xenophobia and an ever narrowing perspective on what is considered” normal” and acceptable within the society.
So, while celebrating our success in defending the spiritual rights of people all over Europe, we must also be prepared to live up to the increased challenges that are already here. Let us prepare for a decade of effective actions, not just words. Let us explore new ways to awaken the courage needed to live life fully, as complete and free human beings.
The tenth Spiritual Human Rights conference calls on all of us to be the guardian of the fundamental rights of people around us no matter their religion and culture, and never to let fear and ignorance be the measure of our hearts and freedom of conscience.