In a statement published by the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance ( FoRB & RT ), they inform of “the presentation of the periodic report published by the Intergroup” which was held on Tuesday 22nd March.

The FoRB report, which outlines the “state of the art of religious freedom in the world” and discusses the “European institutions’ actions to protect religious freedom”, was drafted in collaboration with some of the most important associations and NGOs in the sector, involving “different representatives of the faiths, from Christian associations to Baha’i, Muslims and Jews”.

Among the speakers, in addition to the co-chairs of the intergroup Carlo FIDANZA (FdI- Ecr) and Peter Van Dalen (EPP), who opened the session, the attendees could find Oksana Oleynikova, director of the Good Shepherd children’s home in Ukraine, who “updated those present on the current situation in Ukraine”, Iannis Argyropoulos, Head of Unit for Asia-Pacific and South Asia Regional Affairs of the European External Action Service; Marcela Szymanski, editor-in-chief of the ”Religious Freedom in the World” dossier at the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need and Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Borders.

Picture FoRB event 1 - FoRB: MEPs Van Dalen and Fidanza launch the 2017-2021 worrying report
Courtesy of the EU Parliament’s Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance

Co-chair Carlo FIDANZA recalled that among those persecuted for their faith, “over 360 million Christians experience a high level of persecution and discrimination“.

Today the eyes of the world are rightly focused on the martyrdom of Mariupol” FIDANZA said during his speech of the launching of this report. “With this report, we want to turn the spotlight on another martyrdom that takes place every day in total indifference and which affects millions of believers, especially Christians, who are persecuted worldwide for their beliefs”. “Europe” – concluded FIDANZA – “that perhaps for the first time it is realising how important it is to have a foreign policy, must forcefully put the issue of religious freedom in all bilateral negotiations with countries where this is not guaranteed”

Peter van Dalen, the other co-chair who has been on the business of FoRB for quite a while, said:  “The EU needs to enhance its efforts in promoting and protecting the freedom of religion or belief, as religious freedom is deteriorating in many countries. In EU policy, too often economic interests prevail over  commitments. Therefore, the European Commission must reappoint a Special Envoy for the promotion and protection for the freedom of religion or belief as soon as possible.

The report, which has just been published by the FoRB intergroup, selects 10 countries that, according to the NGOs that participated in the survey, are the countries where religious freedom is increasingly restricted.

However, it does not include violations of FoRB in Europe, a long demanded mandate by different Civil Society organizations who believe the EU could be stronger in the influence abroad “if many of the EU member states would have a more strict and broad respect for the local minorities” said one of the NGOs consulted by The European Times.

FoRB in some Non-EU countries

Among the countries covered in the report is China, where forced Sinicisation is underway “at the expense of Uighurs, Falun Gong, Christians and, obviously, Tibetan Buddhists” says the statement published by the Intergroup. “In China, the government is becoming more and more authoritarian in all its policies, enforcing a so-called sinicization of society, in which religion is seen as a threat to the official atheist ideology, said Willy Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers.

Fautre said also in the Parliament that “One thing is very disturbing in the report. Among the 11 countries selected by the Intergroup for the deterioration level of religious freedom, 8 are from Asia: Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Turkey and Vietnam.

A couple of them are Communist countries and the others have a dominant religion enjoying the support of the state and public institutions, either Sunni or Shia Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism.

These Asian countries total a population of 3.4 billion people, which represents 42% of the world population. Religious minorities in such contexts are vulnerable to all sorts of arbitrary restrictions, discrimination, social hostility, violence and killings“.

Picture FoRB event 2 1024x768 - FoRB: MEPs Van Dalen and Fidanza launch the 2017-2021 worrying report
Courtesy of the EU Parliament’s Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance

Pakistan, where the majority of the Sunni population is “aggressive towards minorities and uses anti-blasphemy laws as a tool to regulate private affairs against those who are ‘inconvenient’”, and finally Algeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Vietnam and Turkey where Erdogan promotes Sunni Islamisation policies to the at the expense of atheists, Christians and Jews.

FoRB in Africa

Nigeria, where “President Buhari has worked to foster an Islamisation of the country and there are continuous persecution by jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, Iswap and local warlords, mainly at the expense of Christians,” said the press release.

Future actions

In the questions and answers section of the launch event, MEP Carlo Fidanza responded to the question about the next steps of the Intergroup, saying that they will continue taking the initiative to address the situation of persecuted minorities worldwide, such as our resolutions on Pakistan and cultural heritage in Nagorno Karabach, or through events” and “will keep pushing for a quick reappointment of a Special Envoy FoRB”.