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The case of Jooga- ja Tantrakuolu Natha

Yoga practitioners survailance in Finland

From 30th October to 2nd November 2015, Soteria International conducted a fact-finding mission in Helsinki to directly observ the situation of yoga practitioners from Jooga- ja Tantrakuolu Natha and to have meetings with the association’s representatives and management board; surveys and interviews with students and teachers; observations of meetings of members of JTN; surveys of media attention on the case; interviews with practitioners whose houses were raided by the police in 2012 and being part of the ensuing judicial proceedings.

The humankind experience so far demonstrates that often legality prevails over righteousness, but when things are considered just as an exclusive result of legislative decisions, the human rights can miss ethic and moral dimensions. Ethic and moral dimensions ultimately come from a common sense of Justice as a fruit of the triptych love-right-solidarity naturally existing among the members of a community.

We recognised patterns in how the Finnish authorities have dealt with this case, in other countries which commit abuses towards religious minorities considered as “sects.” It appears as though the authorities are in danger of being influenced by the media and a socially accepted discrimination of certain groups, which are publicly described as strange or subversive. Within the EU there is a continuous fight to let go of the “sect” stigma of smaller religious groups, based on, and fuelled by, popular intolerance and ignorance.

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Over 150 Churches Have Lost Legal Status- Hungary Ignores ECHR Ruling

FOREF Intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016

In 2011, the Hungarian government passed a law which reduced the number of legally recognized churches from over 200 to merely 14. Within the year, the number of recognized churches doubled due to international pressure, however, even following a decision made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in 2014, Hungary has failed to reinstate recognition for the remaining unrecognized churches.

Forum for Religious Freedom (FOREF) Europe is an NGO defending the right to freedom of conscience, religion, and belief, as found in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They aim to protect, promote, monitor, advocate, and support within the field of freedom of religion and belief. FOREF addressed the case of the Hungarian Church Law at the OSCE meeting in Warsaw this year.

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The Politically Motivated Use of NGOs: "FECRIS, A NGO Financed by the French Government"

CAP Intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016

Several Human Rights Organisations, including Soteria International, are involved in unveiling the misleading statements of anti-sect organizations. The issue of anti-sect organizations is raised each year at the OSCE HDIM, however, due to the lack of interest in addressing the issue, the problem is a continuous reality.

Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers Pour la Liberté de Conscience (Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience, or CAP) is one of the organisations with whom Soteria International collaborates, and this year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), CAP brought forth the case of FECRIS, which is a, supposed, non-government organisation, claiming to be fighting against the abuse of individuals by 'sects/cults', and whose work is entirely funded by the French state.

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HRWF Advocates for the Human Rights of Two Czech Citizens: Jaroslav Dobes and Barbora Plaskova

HRWF Intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016

Soteria International is part of a network of scholars, religious leaders, and  human rights advocates and practitioners, who collaborate together in order to raise awareness of the growing number of people adapting a spiritual perspective on life, and who often meet a resistant misunderstanding in a society of  newly emerging values and principles. In some cases, this misunderstanding leads to governmental and institutional intolerance and misunderstanding towards new spiritual and religious movements.

Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) is a well-known and dynamic organisation working out of Brussels. This year at the OSCE's Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), HRWF brought forth the case of Jaroslav Dobes ('Guru Jara') and Barbora Plaskova, two Czech nationals who are currently detained in the Phillipines due to their inability to acquire valid Czech passports.

This is a case, which Soteria International has followed closely, and done extensive fact-checking and advocating for, in the period of 2014-2016. At last year's OSCE HDIM, Soteria International presented an intervention on this case.

This year, HRWF chose to, once again, bring the case to the attention of the OSCE member organisations and delegates.

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OSCE - Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2016 - FoRB

Soteria International intervention at OSCE/HDIM 2016 - Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief

On September 27, Soteria International presented an intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016 plenary session on the Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion, or Belief, in the presence of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religon or Belief, the ODIHR Human Rights Department, OSCE member country delegates, the United States Mission to the OSCE, and numerous civil society organisations.

Soteria International argued that in our globalized society, we are witnessing a restriction on the freedom to choose a spiritual path. This restriction arises due to the fact that society understands the actions of individuals in a local paradigm of behaviour that is appropriate to the rules of social life in the respective region.

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OSCE - Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2016 - Rule of law

Soteria International intervention at OSCE/HDIM 2016 - Rule of law

On September 22, Soteria International presented an Intervention at the OSCE HDIM 2016 plenary session on the Rule of Law. Soteria International argued that the EU Judicial Collaboration leads to violation of International Law and the 1951 Geneva Convention for Refugees. One of the core principles of the rule of law when referring to the respect of refugee status is foreseeability. This is a concept, which implies that, as meticulously as possible, the rule of law must be proclaimed prior to implementation and the effects of the rule of law must be foreseeable. A case in which the EU judicial collaboration has failed to adhere to the foreseeability principle is seen in the discrepancy between International Law and the Geneva Convention for Refugees. In particular, non-refoulment entails the prohibition of all signatory states of the Geneva Convention for Refugees to force refugee or asylum seekers to return to the country in which they risk persecution, and to respect the decision of another signatory state to grant refugee status to a person. However, the framework decision of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) fails to stipulate the course of action in the case of intra-EU refugees. This leads to the fact that the same individual can be considered, both, a refugee and a fugitive within the same judicial system.

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Reform in INTERPOL: the rights of victims of politically motivated extradition requests

Open Dialogue Foundation's Side Event at the annual OSCE-HDIM 2016

On Thursday, September 22, Soteria International attended the Open Dialogue Foundation's Side Event at the annual OSCE-HDIM 2016 on the reform in INTERPOL and the rights of victims of politically motivated extradition requests.

The panel discussed the collaboration between countries, in the OSCE region, that do not adhere to human rights standards, in order to apply politically motivated, and false, criminal accusation of individuals.

Cases, such as those of the Nadiya Savchenko, Yuriy Soloshenko, and Gennadiy Afanasiev, who were all Ukranian nationals held in Russia for politically motivated reasons.

Another issue is that of refugee’s appearing on INTERPOL’s ‘Red Notice’ list, a list of international arrest warrants. This is possible due to an incompatibility found in between International Law and the Geneva Convention for Refugees.

This means that, in fact, an individual may be granted asylum, while appearing on INTERPOL’s list of fugitives. Therefore, a state which has signed the Geneva Convention, is both, prohibited to force a refugee, or asylum seeker, to return to the country in which they are persecuted according to the convention, as well as, required to extradite an individual back to the country of persecution. This discrepancy leads to open interpretation, as to which of the laws to respect.

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World Peace Day - 21 September 2016

Spiritual human rights are a building block for the maintenance of peace.  When the freedom of spiritual belief becomes a human right, engrained in the collective conscience, creating a social environment in which there is an acceptance and understanding of the spiritual freedoms that all humans deserve, including differences and similarities, peace will be a natural byproduct.

World peace has been an age-old aspiration of many of the inhabitants of our globe throughout time. Although there is still a clear struggle to uphold a state of peace among and within nations and people, the United Nations has accorded a day, each year, specifically to commemorate this cause.

September 21 marks the International Day of Peace, which provides us the opportunity to bring World Peace to the attention of the international community.

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Serious infringement of Geneva Convention for refugees 1951 in Gregorian Bivolaru’s case

France enables the continued persecution of Bivolaru by the Romanian authorities

Ambiguities in the EU legislation regarding the status of refugees lead to abuses that undermine the fundamental principles of European democracy, as illustrated by the 1951 Geneva Convention. The case of the Romanian refugee Gregorian Bivolaru exposes such dangerous flaws.

Gregorian Bivolaru, Romanian citizen, was granted political asylum in Sweden in January 2006, as the Swedish Supreme Court considered that the refugee “will not receive a fair trial and his life will be endangered in Romania due to his religious and political beliefs”.

In February 2016 Gregorian Bivolaru was arrested in France, following a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Romanian authorities in June 2013. The EAW is a direct continuation of the persecutions for which he was granted asylum.

As the framework of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) does not consider the possibility of political asylum between the EU member states, this flaw in the EAW framework seems to make way for violations of fundamental rights.

On the 8th June 2016 Cour D’Appel de Paris decided to hand Mr. Bivolaru over to continued persecution in Romania, disregarding the refugee’s protection according to the Geneva Convention of 1951.

The Swedish position presented to the Cour d’Appel de Paris leaves no room for interpretation: Sweden considers that the status of political refugee of Mr Gregorian Bivolaru is and remains justified. Sweden stands up for the refugee’s asylum and does not consider revoking the protection from Romanian persecutions, even if Romania is now part of EU.

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Conflicting Principles and priorities in EU

Part one

It is a fact the EU is an evolving entity, in a continuous process of expansion and adaptation to various challenges, both internal and external.

The fact that, in time, EU has come in integrate various European states into the organization, has brought upon it the challenge of integration, so that these new states (mostly east European countries), might in time accede to the standards and principles that founded and regulate the life of the EU.

This also means that judiciary system that were vastly different had to be made to come together, and the effort to convince new member states to rise to expectation is still ongoing. The fact that this is not yet an accomplished thing leads to situation when abuses and interference with those principle and legal guidelines that regulate the EU are made possible, and sometimes the means to detect and prevent such abuse are scarce, or, worse, ignored.

One such problematic issue is the situation that arises when different EU member states take vastly different positions on issues that seem to fall under two different: the status of the political refugees within EU and the European understandings regarding the processes of extradition. When both positions have to be taken into consideration with regard to a single instance, conflicts arise.

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Belgium: Trial Court Dismisses All Charges Against Church of Scientology and Eleven Scientologists

Victory for the human rights

Eighteen years of judicial harassment of the Church of Scientology of Belgium and its members ended on 11 March 2016 when a ruling of the Criminal Court in Brussels became final.  The 173-page decision found inadmissible all proceedings against the defendants, including the Church of Scientology of Belgium and the Human Rights Office of Church of Scientology International, thereby declaring all charges of the federal prosecutor to be unfounded.

For almost two decades, until judgment was rendered in March 2016, the defendants were unfairly labelled as “guilty” criminals by the prosecution and the media without having their day in Court, stigmatizing and marginalizing them in their communities and disrupting their lives.

The Court clearly recognized that it offends fundamental human rights for the prosecution to put a religion on trial and argue that individuals who simply follow its precepts and voluntarily associate with it should somehow be presumed guilty of a crime without any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

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ECHR unequivocally states that Romanian authorities have majorly violated human rights when handling the case of MISA!

Violations of the freedom of religion and belief for MISA yoga practitioners in Romania

For almost a decade Soteria International has been raising awareness among international and European politicians and Human Rights NGOs about violations of the freedom of religion and belief in Romania in the case of the spiritual movement MISA and its founder Gregorian Bivolaru.

To remind briefly the case: on 18 March 2004 Romanian conducted an unprecedented, massive attack on the spiritual community of MISA yoga school, using brutal force and weapons against its peaceful inhabitants. The attack was broadcasted nationwide, marking the beginning of one of the most devastating and sinister defamation and marginalization campaign in Romanian media directed against the movement MISA and its followers.

During time, Romania refused to at least look at the human rights violations in this case, and continued with the discrimination of MISA participants.

However, on 26.04.2016 European Court for Human Rights has ruled in favor of MISA participants who were affected by the attack in 2004. ECHR unequivocally states that Romanian authorities have majorly violated human rights when handling the case of MISA!

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Can politics and spirituality be brought together?

By Corinne McLaughlin                                                

This article has been taken from CICNS: http://www.cicns.net/Politique_Spiritualite_Reunies.htm

Spirituality? Politics? How dare we mention these two words in the same breath? One can be a spiritual seeker or political activist but not both. When caught in the dual mind of "this or that", politics and spirituality appear as two different worlds, two different dimensions that should not be mixed.

But practically speaking, spirituality can ennoble politics - a politics which is rooted in spirituality. Spirituality can help us leave behind the ego and instincts of power at the door and really serve the good of all.  Politics may provide a practical arena for applying spiritual principles, such as compassion and, in addition, the media will give us "feedback" instantly if our actions are inconsistent with our promises.

Gandhi had no difficulty putting together spirituality and politics. He said: “I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do, unless I took part in politics”.

What about the separation of church and state in our country? The founding fathers (and mothers) have never said that we should not discuss spiritual principles in the political arena but that the state should not impose religious beliefs on its citizens or interfere in the practice of their religion.

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The situation of Human Rights Defenders around the world

"Stop the killing of human rights defenders" Report

The work of human rights defenders is essential for the advancement of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders play a central role in making state policies human rights compliant and authorities accountable. Human rights defenders are also instrumental in defending victims of human rights violations and ensuring their access to redress and remedy. Human rights defenders are key partners of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Civil society human rights activists face numerous obstacles in their work, including: legal and administrative restrictions impeding the registration of NGOs and their access to funding; excessive financial and reporting requirements; judicial harassment; smear campaigns; threats and intimidation; abusive control and surveillance; confiscation and destruction of working materials; unlawful arrest or detention and ill-treatment. In some cases, human rights defenders are kidnapped or even killed. The absence of effective investigations into violations committed by state and non-state actors against human rights defenders targeted because of their human rights work remains a major problem. This results in the impunity of perpetrators and the recurrence of violations, which also facilitate reprisals.(http://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/human-rights-defenders)

The Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament had recently a meeting, on 17.02.2016, , where issues regarding the violence against human right defenders (HRDs) were approached. Even if put in very difficult situations, even if they are regularly subject to persecutions, punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention especially in countries lacking an effective rule of law, these entities (either individuals or different type of organisations, the main being the NGOs) prove the courage to continue their actions of defending human rights. In this context, it is very important for the EU to urgently adopt new resolutions in order to control these situations.

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Gregorian Bivolaru: Note of F.O.B. Board of Directors

F.O.B. - European Federation for Freedom of Belief

F.O.B. (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) supports the initiative of Soteria International aimed to know the truth about the case of Bivolaru, political refugee arrested in France last February 26 in violation of the international law.

Gregorian Bivolaru – persecuted by Ceausescu’s regime – received a criminal conviction in Romania within an extremely controversial trial, marked by documented violations of basic human rights. Since 2005 he has been granted political asylum in Sweden; the spiritual movement which he founded, MISA Yoga, was completely acquitted of all charges on December 11, 2015.

The legal actions against the group have been the center of interpellations and reports at international level, from the EU Commission to the OSCE/ODIHR, to which also F.O.B. contributed by intervening on both the Romanian and the equally controversial Italian appendix of the case and which was brought to the attention of the Parliament in 2012.

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Human Rights inside EU - Romanian religious refugee protected in Sweden, now arrested in France

The Romanian yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru was arrested in France on February 26 2016, in violation of his protection as a religious refugee in Sweden.

Following a history, spanning decades, of persecution in Romania for his spiritual beliefs, Gregorian Bivolaru, was convicted in what clearly seems to be an unjust manner, within a controversial and prejudiced court case, in Romania, where there appeared noticeable violations of human rights, not only of Mr Bivolaru but also of members of M.I.S.A yoga school. In 2005, Mr Bivolaru was granted political asylum in Sweden.

This case has drawn international attention particularly due to the controversies raised by the lack of coherence between the actions of Romania and the International Protection offered by the European Union and marked by the Geneva Convention, for the Human Rights of Mr Bivolaru.

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Gregorian Bivolaru between political asylum and jail

EU member states are faced with a dilema: to respect the Geneva convention or the European Arrest Warrant in Gregorian Bivolaru's case.

The Bivolaru case is again in the centre of European attention, challenging the EU-collaboration as one country, Romania, continues a persecution that another EU-member state protects the refugee from.

Taking in consideration the unicity of the Bivolaru’s case, the question about Mr Bivolaru situation was addressed in different occasions at the European level including to the former president of the commission Jose Manuel Barosso, and also to the former vice-presidents Viviane Reding and Cecilia Malmstrom., .  

This film from 2015 presents background of the persecutions as well as perspectives on how to handle today's unique situation.

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Did Romania mislead Europol to violate the Geneva Convention?

On Friday, January 29, EUROPOL published “Europe’s most wanted fugitive” list. The list features 43 fugitives, who hide in other EU member states. Most of them are wanted for murder, armed robbery, rape or organized crime. But one of them is not a hiding fugitive at all, but a Romanian refugee with asylum in Sweden.

The Romanian accusations were tried by the Swedish Supreme Court, who found them to violate his human rights. In 2006 he received Swedish asylum as religious refugee. In recent years Romania have taken up the persecutions of the refugee, now within the EU collaboration. In 2013 a European Arrest Warrant was issued on his name, and now he appears on Europol's most wanted fugitives list.

Judicial protection between EU member states is rare and sensitive. The Romanian/Swedish case has been discussed at highest EU level. The European Commission has requested Swedish authorities first of all to protect the refugee's rights, allowing Sweden to ignore the European arrest warrant.

How can it be that Europol now side with Romania against the Swedish asylum and the Geneva Convention?

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Freedom of Belief in Italy

Presentation of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) at Montecitorio Palace

Recently Soteria International participated to an important event about the secularism and freedom of belief in Italy – presentation hosted by European Federation for Freedom of Belief in Rome.

Here is the synthesis of the event as presented by FOB.

Presentation of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) at Montecitorio Palace

On December 21, 2015, the European Federation for Freedom of Belief held its presentation conference at the Chamber of Deputies. 
The event, organized in the prestigious “Hall of Globe” of Montecitorio Palace thanks to Hon. Luciano Ciocchetti, was attended by about seventy people, among whom also representatives of nine religious and spiritual minorities:

  • Hare Krishna
  • Church of Jesus Christ  of Latter-day Saints
  • Italian Union of the Christian Adventist Churches of the 7th Day
  • Italian Buddhist Union
  • Unification Church – Federation of Families for Peace and Unity
  • Church of Scientology
  • Italian Buddhist Institute Soka Gakkai
  • Damanhur
  • Association of Hebrew Women of Italy

Also attending the conference, the representatives of three European and one Italian NGOs, all of them members of FOB: Soteria InternationalEuropean Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of ConscienceForum for Religious Freedom Europe and theInternational Association for the Defense of Religious Freedom.

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Synthesis - Conference of Spiritual Human Rights – December 2015, Copenhagen

Human Rights and Spiritual Practice

This year, Soteria International’s conference focused to bring the human rights in our daily life. The open dialogue with the participants started analyzing one by one different subjects as: What are human rights? ; Freedom of religion, conscience and belief – article 9; The term “sect” and marginalization of unfamiliar spiritual practice; The free conscience as spiritual practice and concluded with the practical approach of What can we do to support human rights in our society?

In the first topic, What are human rights? we raised the attention on the fact that the human rights are based on the morality. Morality is humanities attempt to formulate guiding principles, discerning right action from wrong action.

We briefly spoke about the history of the Human Rights, how they appeared and why. Human Rights were originally formulated after studying the common morality of different cultures in order not to be arbitrary and any claims that they make, attack the very foundation of human nature.

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