Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) as a universal, fundamental right must not be compromised by the pretext of “spiritual” or “cultural” security

The Need of a Shared Understanding of Freedom in the OSCE Region

Austrian Chairmanship 2017


Vienna, 23.06.2017 (HRWF/FOREF) – The Austrian OSCE Chairmanship and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights hosted a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) on the 22nd and 23rd of June in the spacious halls of the Hofburg, the former imperial palace in the inner city of Vienna. This SHDM’s theme was Freedom of Religion or Belief for All and was aimed at discussing the opportunities and challenges in confronting intolerance and discrimination against Jews, Christians, Muslims and members of other faith communities. As the contributions to the SHDM have shown, notions of what FoRB means and how basic freedoms form a normative basis for government policies are becoming increasingly blurred in the OSCE region. Restrictive government policies tend to prioritize concepts of security over the individual and collective right to religious freedom with impunity. The lack of a shared understanding of freedom in the region makes it even easier for authoritarian governments to compromise on fundamental human rights.

In his introductory remarks to one session of the meeting, Ambassador Jean-Christophe Peaucelle, the Advisor for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, stated: “France is not hostile to religion. France is committed to non-segmented freedom of religion and belief, and ensures the protection of universal and indivisible human rights.” He underlined that the French version of secularism does not view religion negatively, but takes a neutral stance on religion. Continue reading

Posted in FoRB Violations, HRWF, Human Rights, OSCE | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Condemn Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban

Statement for the OSCE – Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) I: Freedom of Religion or Belief
22-23 June 2017, Vienna

Condemn Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban
By the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe
and Human Rights Without Frontiers

Russia’s Supreme Court pronounces a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses nationwide

Vienna, 23 June 2017 – The Russian Federation’s ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses is arguably the most flagrant assault on religious freedom to occur in the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

The ban was confirmed by the Russian Supreme Court on the 20th of April. The ban makes it a crime for about 170,000 Russian citizens to practice their faith. The denomination has faced increasing persecution in Russia for decades. Recently, Dennis Christensen, a Danish citizen, has been arrested for attending a religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witness and was sentenced to a 2-month pretrial detention. Russia has thus started to incarcerate prisoners of conscience.
Yet this unprecedented restriction on the fundamental human right to freedom of religion, a right the Russian Federation is legally and politically committed to protect, has been met with only limited and muted criticism, and more often than not, by silence indicating indifference.


International reaction has not been consistent with the gravity of this massive violation of human rights, and compels us to ask, why not?
What would have happened had the Russian Federation banned the Catholic Church, or the practice of Judaism or Islam?

The weak reaction to the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects enduring prejudice against minority religions, and what are categorized as “sects.” Indeed, it reflects the same ignorance and condescension that motivated Russian authorities, at the behest of the Russian Orthodox Church, to outlaw the group.

Our organizations applaud numerous activists, experts, international officials, and governments, and the few human rights organizations, which have voiced their objections.
But not enough have done so. The issue has not been afforded the importance it deserves, but has largely remained underreported. We can only conclude that weak international criticism and action to counter this assault on freedom of religion will be taken as a “green light” for further legal discrimination against religious communities not only in Russia, but in other states where authoritarian regimes seek to impose cultural and spiritual harmony upon their citizens.

We are thus calling on the participating States of the OSCE to raise your voices against the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses by the Russian Federation. Without exaggeration, the future of religious freedom in the region depends on it.

For more information and/or interviews:
Aaron Rhodes (President, FOREF) 
/ +49-170-323-8314
Peter Zoehrer (Executive Director, FOREF) 
/ +43 664-523-8794
Willy Fautré (Executive Director, HRWF)
Phone: +32478202069
Posted in Alexander Dvorkin, Christians, Countries, Court Decisions, EU Special Envoy on FoRB, Europe, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Human Rights, Jehovah's Witnesses, Legislation, OSCE, Persecution of Religious Groups, Putin, Religion, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, religious persecution, Russia, Sects | Leave a comment

International Conference “Our Aid to the Persecuted for Religious Belief” 12 June 2017

International Conference “Our Aid to the Persecuted for Religious Belief”
12 June 2017

Left to right:
Mark von Riedermann (director, Church in Need, Germany), Dr. Jan Figel (EU Envoy on FoRB), Pavel Demes (fr. Min. of Foreign Affairs, SLOVAKIA), Andreas Thonhauser (ADF, Alliance Defending Freedom), Dr Martin Dilong (Education & Family Institute)


Peter Zoehrer, Director General of FOREF Europe (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe), giving his presentation on Religious Freedom -International Context


Presentation (sound track) by Peter Zoehrer
(FOREF Europe)
“Human Rights & the International Context of Religious Freedom”

Presentation (English) starts at 1:38 min

Presentation (PDF- slides) by Peter Zoehrer

“Human Rights & the International Context
Religious Freedom”

Posted in Christians, EU Special Envoy on FoRB, European Intergroup on FoRB & RT, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, Human Rights, Islam, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, Sects, Slovakia, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Both Ukraine and Russia violate religious freedom

Both Ukraine and Russia violate Religious Freedom

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II

Vienna / Brussels, 19 May 2017 – The Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), independent and nonpartisan human rights organizations, called on Ukraine and Russia to cease exploiting and repressing religious communities.

In Ukraine, Bills 4511 and 4128 proposed in the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovnaya Rada) place Ukrainian Orthodox churches belonging to the Moscow Patriachate in a special category as religious organizations “whose administrative centers are located in a state recognized …as an aggressor state.”   Bill 4128 is aimed at promoting the transformation of such churches into members of the Kiev Patriarchate.

The legislation has been denounced as discriminatory by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, and also by Ukrainian politicians and civil society groups who understand that it constitutes a serious interference into religious affairs by the state, and violates fundamental human rights, and freedom of religion principles and legal obligations of Ukraine.

In fact, ever since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and military subversion of sections of Eastern Ukraine, Orthodox congregations have been attacked, abused and manipulated by both pro-Russian agitators and Ukrainian groups that oppose them.

“Discriminating against followers of the Moscow Patriarchate is not justified by Russian aggression in Ukraine,” according to Dr. Aaron Rhodes, president of FOREF.  “It violates human rights, and alienates citizens,” he said.

The unfortunate Ukrainian legislation emerged shortly after the Russian Supreme Court issued a ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a decision that, if upheld, will make it a serious crime for 170,000 Russian citizens to practice their faith.

The decision has been praised by leading representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations,   “This is a sect, totalitarian and harmful…Their doctrine contains a lot of false teachings. They do not believe in Jesus Christ as the God and the Savior. They do not recognize the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, they cannot be called Christians.”

“One cannot escape the irony of Russian Orthodox Church officials calling on Ukraine to respect freedom of religion while they support the legal destruction of a religious group with which they have doctrinal differences,” said Willy Fautre, Executive Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

For more information and interviews:

Willy Fautré (Executive Director, HRWF)
Aaron Rhodes (President, FOREF) +49-170-323-8314
Peter Zoehrer (Executive Director, FOREF) +43 664-523-8794

Download Press Release as PDF:


Posted in Aaron Rhodes, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Human Rights, OSCE, Putin, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, Russia, Russian-Orthodox Church, ukraine | Leave a comment

RUSSIA: Statements on the recent Jehovah’s Witness Ban

On Video: Experts React to Threat of Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

On April 5, 2017, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is expected to rule on whether to liquidate and ban the activity of all legal entities used by Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Russia. A ruling against the Witnesses would criminalize their worship. Several human rights experts from Russia and abroad comment on the unjust actions of Russian authorities and how a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses would affect not only the Witnesses but also Russia’s international reputation and religious freedom for its citizens.

Heiner Bielefeldt

“If Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist, I think we all are.”

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief


Annika Hvithamar

‘If Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist, then most versions of Christianity could be accused of the same thing.’

Associate Professor/Head of Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

Dr. Massimo Introvigne

Dr. Massimo Introvigne: “The only relationship between Jehovah’s Witnesses and violence is that they have been victims of violence”

Sociologist and Former Representative of the OSCE on Combating Racism, Xenophobia, Discrimination


Posted in Commentaries and Interviews, Europe, FoRB Violations, Human Rights, Jehovah's Witnesses, Putin, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, Russia, UN Special Rapporteur, Uncategorized, UNHRC, United Nations | Leave a comment

RUSSIA: Press Release by FOREF and HRWF

Jehovah’s Witnesses Banned in Russia

Human Rights Organizations appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court and Presidential Administration.

VIENNA/BRUSSELS, 10. 5. 2017 (FOREF – Europe/HRWF) – 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.

There are about 170,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation, who worship in almost 400 branches. The Russian Justice Ministry alleged that the group is a “threat to the rights of citizens, public order and public security.” But the Jehovah’s Witnesses are known as a denomination that rejects violence.

Indeed, the weakness of the General Prosecutor’s case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group that has long faced persecution in Russia, is obvious to any independent observer. Consisting of vague allegations, it offers no proof, no motivation, and leaves an impression that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are being denied their internationally-guaranteed rights, and their rights under Article 28 of the Russian Federal Constitution, simply for their doctrinal differences with the Russian Orthodox Church.

If the Supreme Court ruling stands, participation in the activities of the group will be punishable by a fine of up to 600,000 rubles (over US$10,600) and a prison term of up to ten years.

For more information and/or interviews:

Peter Zoehrer (Executive Director, FOREF) +43 664-523-8794
Aaron Rhodes (President, FOREF) +49-170-323-8314

Willy Fautré (Executive Director, HRWF)

Appeal in English:
2017-10-05 EN-Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia2 foref hrwf

Appeal in French:

Appeal in German:
2017-05 Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia German DE. docx

Appeal in Italian:
FOREF-HRWF-Appello alla Corte Suprema russa

Appeal in Dutch:
2017-05 Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia DUTCH

Appeal in Czech:
2017-05 Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia CZECH

Appeal in Slovakian:
2017-12-05 SLOW-Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia2 foref hrwf

Appeal in Danish:
2017-05 Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia DANISH

Appeal in Romanian:

Appeal in Croatian:
2017-09-05 CRO-Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia2 foref hrwf

Appeal in Russian:
2017-12-05 – RU-Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia2 foref hrwf

Appeal in Hungarian:
2017-12-05 HU-Appeal to Supreme Court of Russia2 foref hrwf_hun

Appeal in Albanian:



Posted in Council of Europe, Court Decisions, European Union, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Human Rights, Jehovah's Witnesses, Limitations of Religious Freedom, OSCE, Persecution of Religious Groups, Putin, Religious Discrimination, Religious Intolerance, religious persecution, Russia | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Stop crusade against Ahmadiyya community

Bildergebnis für ahmadiyya pakistan

Islamabad, 13.04.2017 (AHRC) – A new wave of persecution and killings of the Ahmadi sect has started after an Islamabad high court judge took a position on religious matters of individuals, particularly about free discussions on social media.

Judge Shaukat Siddiqui is generally known as a bigot and hate monger. Leading the movement for the release of Constable Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of former governor of Punjab province, Mr. Salman Taseer, the judge declared Qadri as ‘Ghazi’ (victorious for upholding the teachings of Islam).

In recent days, Judge Siddiqui is taking cases of alleged blasphemy and instructing the authorities to ban the accused persons’ accounts of Facebook, Twitter and Internet. The Judge’s interpretation of blasphemy amounts to any free discussion on Islam or its sacred personalities.

Unfortunately, the backlash of this focus on blasphemy is faced by the Ahmadiyya community, which ironically never challenges the ideas of other religions or sects of Islam.
Harassed, ostracized, and made outcastes, the “kafir” (infidel) Ahmadi community has been suffering incessantly at the hands of fundamentalist groups who vowed to wipe out all Ahmadis from Pakistan. Since 1974, when Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims, the country has witnessed a systematic cleansing, and a political, social, and economic ostracization of Ahmadis.

Continue reading

Posted in Ahmadiyya, FoRB Violations, Human Rights, Islamism, pakistan, Persecuted Groups, Religious Intolerance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment