Pursued because of faith
Persecution may lead to confiscation or destruction of property, bullying, hate speech, arrest, imprisonment and even abuse, torture and execution.
Blasphemy charges against Pakistani girl 14years Rimsha Masih, who has Down syndrome and belongs to a small Christian minority, are based on charges that she burned some pages of the Koran. She risks death penalty. Such proceedings against a minor, retarded children will – regardless of guilt – have been a clear violation of human rights. However, new information has come up in this case indicating that this is false accusation. However, such information rarely leads to new research and investigation. The authorities have now gone to the arrest of the Imam Khalid Chishti Jadoons basis of suspicion planted evidence. This can be a sign of increased attention from the authorities to the problem of religious oppression and persecution. Rimsha Masih is recently released from prison.
Religious Discrimination in Europe
Also in Europe there are increasing repression of basic freedoms and religious harassment. According to a report by Minority Rights Group International, harassment of minorities on religious grounds has become a trend in most European countries. In Switzerland, after a referendum, a general prohibition against the construction of minarets was adopted. Amnesty International has characterized the decision as a clear violation of religious freedom.
But how far should freedom of religion be practised? In several European countries it is forbidden to use the hijab in schools. This has led to strong protests. Recently, it was also decided a niqab ban in high schools in Østfold. Is this ban a violation of religious freedom and civil and political human rights? Here the law is obviously not completely clear. This is demonstrated by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, which in some cases have accepted a ban on the hijab.
In other cases the violations of human rights are obvious. Several countries have now introduced new rules for registration of belief, as part of the registration of the population. This often leads to people, not belonging to recognized religions, can be denied identification papers, denied education and will not employed by the state apparatus. Many of the provisions are justified by the need to maintain peace and order or for increased security following the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001. But research shows that many states are increasingly using the new provisions to control and suppress religious groups.
A good Norwegian initiative
It is gratifying that the Norwegian government is now taking an initiative for a stronger commitment to the assault on and oppression of religious minorities. The State Department has just launched a special project where minority religious minorities should be given special attention. The seasoned diplomat Harald Neple is set to lead a new Minority Project. The project will both identify violations of religious freedom and propose specific measures where Norway can contribute. All Norwegian embassies are required to report regularly to the Minority Project on violations of religious freedom. In addition, Norway will take the initiative to address these issues in international fora, such as the UN Human Rights Council. You can meet Mr. Neple at open seminar Friday 26th October at noon in The Oslo Center.