Articles

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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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Laicity and Freedom of Belief in Italy: Reports, Suggestions, Evidence Presentation of FOB

European Federation for Freedom of Belief - Italy

On Monday, 21th of December 2015, Soteria International is having the pleasure to participate as a guest at the conference held by FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) in Rome.

Soteria International is member of FOB and together we organized conferences and seminars, sustaining a deeper understanding and a broader perspective on the freedom of conscience and belief.

FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief) is a European non-party and non- denominational federation, composed of associations founded in different member States of the European Union, created to support freedom of religion and belief.

During the conference FOB will present its own activities to the Italian public. The purposes of FOB substantially fit in the support to the FORB program passed by the European Union.

During this meeting, reports and suggestions by FOB will be investigated; wide room will be given to the speeches from people who have been involved with and committed to the defense of religious freedom for decades. Moreover evidence of cases in which such fundamental freedom has been seriously violated will be provided. Final aim is to let citizens become aware of the actual situations within this field giving them the knowledge and information needed to promote and sustain the respect of fundamental human rights.

The event will take place:

Monday 21th December 2015, at 10 am, in Rome, Palazzo Montecitorio. Sala Aldo Moro - Piazza di Montecitorio, 00186 Roma.

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Poetrie Institute, Jaroslav Dobes, Barbora Plaskova

Human Rights in Czech Republic

Many people have suffered social marginalization due to a media campaign against their belief system.

In Czech Republic, observation of Jaroslav Dobeš and his followers’ case revealed complexities that call for a thorough investigation on how it was handled by the Czech authorities.

Also, there is a need to address the remnants of totalitarian practices surfacing in this case. There is a certain risk that, if unaddressed, the case of Jaroslav Dobeš will be a dangerous precedent for a faulty political and governmental interference in the development of pluralism and fundamental freedoms, particularly in the field of conscience and belief.

Furthermore, the results of the observation stated that Czech society is prone to stigmatization and ostracism of those who choose to live differently from mainstream principles, as is the case of Jaroslav Dobeš’ followers, and that is by and large due to the inability of the Czech authorities to properly address and prevent human rights violations.

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Spiritual Human Rights 2015 Conference

Human Rights and Spiritual Practice

Soteria International invites you to the 8th edition of the

SPIRITUAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONFERENCE 2015:

9TH DECEMBER 2015, hours 6.00 pm - 9.00 pm

Venue CONCORDIA, Address: Nordre Fasanvej 230, 2200 Copenhagen

Human Rights and Spiritual Practice

The seminar offers a practical approach to support human rights, at individual and societal level. The participants are invited to an open dialogue.

1.      What are human rights?

2.      Freedom of religion, conscience and belief – a hot potato in EU today!

3.      The term “sect” and marginalisation of unfamiliar spiritual practice

4.      The free conscience as spiritual practice – to stand up for your heart!

5.      What can you do to support human rights in your society?

During the event, we will share knowledge on how practically to deal with violations of spiritual human rights, including how to build an inner spiritual attitude facing such violations.

 

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Ogyen Kunzang Chöling Case - Belgium

A Buddhist Tibetan organization surveyed for their beliefs for more than 18 years

In the spring of 2015 Soteria International visited the Buddhist Tibetan organization Ogyen Kunzang Choling which is situated in the middle of Brussels.

Their story is impressive due to the fact that it has taken almost 2 decades for police to conclude their investigation. Also, their case follows the same line that  Soteria International has noticed before; a pattern of behaviour towards new spiritual groups in our society.

It is of no matter that Buddhism and Yoga are millenary traditions, spiritual practices for those wishing to follow their hearts, but in some parts of the world they are perceived as new spiritual movements.  Ogyen Kunzang Chöling (OKC) is a spiritual organisation, following the Buddhist Tibetan tradition. OKC was qualified as a “sect” by the Parliamentary Commission of inquiry on cults, in France in 1995 and then, in Belgium, in 1997.

As a result of this unsubstantial qualification, very strong mediatised judiciary investigations started in 1997 against this association, which in order to show their innocence, had to release numerous documents proving so.

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PACE - Freedom of religion 'without impediment and without discrimination'

PACE - Freedom of religion and living together in a democratic society

On 30 September 2015 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, had a debate about the Freedom of religion and belief and the discrimination that sometimes happens in Europe. We quote from their press release and resolution.

„Religious communities should be able to exercise the right to freedom of religion “without impediment and without discrimination” and to practise their faith publicly and freely in accordance with their own rites, said PACE, which is concerned about the tensions generated in Europe by the development of many beliefs and churches.

The Assembly noted that certain religious practices remained controversial within national communities and underlined that the wearing of full-face veils, circumcision of young boys and ritual slaughter were divisive issues.

In addition, the Assembly called on states to seek “reasonable accommodations” for controversial religious practices, in particular in the workplace, the aim being to guarantee effective equality in the right to freedom of religion.

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FOREF’s Side Event at the OSCE - HDIM 2015

FoRB Issues in Austria, France, Germany and Hungary

This year at OSCE HDIM, FOREF kept a side-event in continuation of last years debate on the issue of freedom of conscience and belief.

The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe (FOREF Europe) is an independent, secular, civil society formation dedicated to defending the freedom of religion in accordance with international law.

Here is the synthesys of the event as FOREF presented on their site.

„On September 30, 2015, from 1 to 3 p.m., FOREF held a well-attended side event on FoRB issues in Austria, France, Germany and Hungary at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland, moderated by the president of FOREF, Dr. Aaron Rhodes. Among the audience were state officials as well as representatives from persecuted minority religions, various NGOs and FECRIS*.

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Human Rights, Anti-mosque Law and Anti Cult Squad challenged by FOB at the OSCE 2015

FOB, European Federation for Freedom of Belief, at the OSCE/ HDIM Meeting in Warsaw

European Federation for Freedom of Belief, FOB, it is a Federation of Associations that advocate freedom of thought, religion and belief. It has been intended as an initiative to support the EU FORB program.

Soteria International is part of FOB since its creation and we work together for a place where all the people live together enjoying fairness and equality too, dispite their religious or belief.

FOB openly stands against every form of religious discrimination, including any arbitrary distinction between "religions" and "cults"; across the decades in fact such a stigma has become largely discriminatory and indeed has been employed to discriminate against religious and spiritual minorities.

At the same time FOB also condemn every kind of abuses and illegalities as well as any type of violence occurring at any place, inside any religious or non-religious environment; and for this very reason we reject any distinction based on early ideological assertions.

This year, during the OSCE/HDIM 2015, FOB expressed openly its position in the session about „Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief”.

 

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OSCE - Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2015

Soteria International intervention at OSCE/HDIM 2015 - Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief

Soteria International subject this year at HDIM was on the derogative term “sect” and the role of “anti-sect movements” in discrimination and hate crimes against small spiritual groups.

In our work, Soteria International is often in contact with the outcasts of religions - the so-called “sects”. The word “sect” describes religions that are so openly and generally discriminated that it is considered normal to do it. A “sect” is someone we all know is strange and subversive, without needing to know anything about them. “Sect” is the N-word of religious discrimination. What is a “sect” today may well be a normal religious practice in another place or time, just as many of today's normal religions were once considered “sects”. The arbitrary use of the term “sect” illustrates society's lack of insight, substantial discourse and personal experiences in the field of spiritual life.

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Witch-hunt effects in society - part 2

We continue with the series of articles regarding the witch-hunt effects in society, displacing the rule of law, when spiritual groups are confronted with allegations of sexual abuse.

In nowadays, it takes very little to create a campaign against spiritual groups. Behind the media campaigns, we most often find just one or two testimonies against the group, while thousands are still in favor.  Most often these accusations come from apostates as part of personal vendettas within the groups. (For the role of apostates and media in these judicial campaigns please see our report “The Impact of Apostates’ Activities on the Suppression Associations of Conscience or Belief”, 2012 http://www.soteriainternational.org/sr1205the-impact-of-apostates-activities-)

The police are rightfully obliged to look into any criminal accusations. In the case of spiritual groups, media campaigns as well as police investigations often turn against the whole group, also because the accusations usually are vague.

We have here, a modern version of witch hunts, with a few unreliable witnesses who have managed to create a wave of fear in society.

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