Austria’s Violations of Freedom of Religion
FOREF Europe Reports to the UN Human Rights Committee
VIENNA, 23.12.2014 (FOREF) – The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe filed this report on cases of violations of the freedom of religion in Austria and sent it to the UN Human Rights Committee for further investigation. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) will host its 113th session from 16 March until 02 April 2015 in Geneva, in which the Country Report Task Forces will consider issues on Austria among other countries.
Note (25.12.2014): After this post was released, the website of HRWF, an international human rights organization, has been hacked by a professional team based in France and taken down from the internet. Therefore, the link to the PDF-File that contained the extensive scientific study on FECRIS will be temporarily dysfunctional.
1. Brief information about FOREF Europe
The Forum for Religious Freedom Europe is an independent, secular, nongovernmental organization based in Vienna. FOREF Europe was founded in 2005 by the internationally recognized jurist and expert on freedom of religion Professor Christian Bruenner, who served as Dean of the School of Law and Rector of Graz University and also in the Austrian Parliament, and human rights activist Peter Zoehrer.
FOREF’s website (www.religionsfreiheit.at) was initiated in 1998 “out of necessity”, since the government has just introduced two new laws, severely curtailing the rights of religious minority groups: First, the establishment of a “federal sect observatory office” (Bundesstelle für Sektenfragen) and second, the introduction of a law for “confessional communities”.
FOREF Europe regularly reports to the media, OSCE, US-State Department, Human Rights Without Frontiers and various other human rights organizations on religious freedom violations in Austria and other countries. FOREF Europe has established an international scientific board of experts as well as an interdenominational religious board. Since its establishment, FOREF Europe has achieved a number of important victories in helping victims of religious intolerance to gain respect for their rights and vindicated from injustice, discrimination or persecution. FOREF Europe’s Facebook community numbers over 1000 members.
In 2014, FOREF Europe named international human rights activist Dr. Aaron Rhodes president. Recent actions have included, inter alia, a successful campaign against a discriminatory resolution in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; a critical analysis of Hungary’s religion law presented to the OSCE; a critical analysis of the decision by the European Court of Human Rights to uphold France’s ban on the burqa; a detailed report on actions by German authorities against a minority Christian group; and an analysis of Austria’s proposed law on Islam.
2. Brief Summary of Concerns
Austria’s population is over 60 percent Catholic. Islam, with around 574,000 Muslims constitutes the second largest faith community. There are approximately 600 religious minority groups. Only 17 faith communities enjoy special privileges by the state.
The Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee on Austria following its review in 2007 made no reference to problems of freedom of religion. FOREF wishes, in this brief report, to express concern about policies of the Austrian federal state that violate the spirit and letter of Article 18 of the Covenant, particularly as regards equal treatment of religious communities and neutrality. Austria has embraced policies and practices that demonize “sects” and “cults,” and most recently has promoted legislation imposing grossly unequal treatment on the Austrian Muslim community. Austria also finances anti-cult organizations such as GSK (a branch of FECRIS), which spread biased and distorted information stigmatizing new religious movements and their members.
3. Anti-Cult Efforts of the Austrian Federal Agency for Sect Issues (Bundesstelle für Sektenfragen)
The Austrian government’s campaigns against so-called “sects” and “cults,” especially through the establishment and actions of a “Federal Agency for Sect Issues” (BSS), have demonized religious minorities and placed the state in opposition to these groups, while cooperating with the established churches.
- The executive director of the BSS, Dr. German Müller, is a former co-worker of the association GSK (Gesellschaft gegen Sekten und Kultgefahren), the Austrian branch of FECRIS. His longstanding mentor, Friedrich Griess (a technical engineer by profession), is the co-founder of FECRIS.