Muslims killed in sectarian clashes in Sri Lanka

On 16 June at least three Muslims were killed and around 80 seriously injured in clashes following a rally by the BBS, the Buddhist Brigade, in Aluthgama on Sunday. Supporters of the BBS were reported to have marched into Muslim areas chanting anti-Muslim slogans. Witnesses say Muslim homes and a mosque were stoned.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has announced an investigation into what has been described as Sri Lanka’s worst outbreak of sectarian violence in years. In recent months, Sinhalese Buddhist revivalist groups have been staging demonstrations, often led by monks, full of anti-Muslim rhetoric. BBC correspondents say tension has recently been high between the two sides, with Muslims calling on the government to protect them from hate attacks by Buddhists, and Buddhists accusing minorities of enjoying too much influence.

19 June update

A Buddhist Monk who has been a vocal critic of the Buddhist Brigade was found beaten and unconscious near Colombo. Wataraka Vijitha Thero has made statements supportive of Muslims and he has also complained to the police that he has received death threats.

The BBC reports that while there has been a lot of discussion of the violence on Sri Lankan social media, most mainstream media outlets on the island – with a few exceptions – have given little coverage and not sent journalists to report on the events. According to media reports, the BBS has denied being behind the assault on the monk.



Egypt’s new constitution under scrutiny

Blasphemy charges brought against Kerolos Shouky Attallah, 29, for ‘liking’ a Facebook page has prompted human rights activists to question the government’s commitment to a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of belief and thought.

The Facebook page is in Arabic, run by anonymous converts from Islam. Faced with threats, Attallah ‘unliked’ the page, but the next day villagers attacked his house. Police arrived: they arrested Attallah and charged him under Egypt’s version of a blasphemy law – showing ‘disdain’ for a heavenly religion. All those who attacked Attallah’s house were released without charge.

“According to the constitution, Kerolos should not be in jail, because it allows freedom of speech and expression, but the judges are not using the new constitution and are still working with the old law,” a human rights activist said. “They are basically ignoring the new constitution.”

Under the Egyptian penal code, violation of Article 98F is punishable by “detention for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years, or paying a fine of not less than 500 pounds and not exceeding 1,000 pounds.” (1,000 Egyptian pounds equals about £85.)

A violation of the article is described as an act that advocates or spreads “extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division,” or an act that shows disdain or contempt for “any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto.” Using religion in a way that harms “national unity or social peace” is also a violation.


On 24 June he was sentenced to six years in prison.


Last June, Demyana Abd Al-Nour, an elementary school teacher from Sheikh Sultan Primary School in the village of Al-Edisat, was fined approximately £8,500 after being accused of committing blasphemy. Her appeal was heard on 15 June, when to the dismay of her family and the bafflement of human rights activists, she was sentenced to six month imprisonment. She is now likely to seek asylum in France, and her family fear they may never see her again.


On 17 June Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the new Egyptian President about freedom of religion. William Hague replied “The Government has been clear throughout recent events in Egypt, that the freedom of religious belief needs to be protected and that the ability to worship in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. I have not yet met President el-Sisi, but will look to work with him and the Egyptian Government to implement the rights contained in Egypt’s constitution, which includes protections for freedom of religious belief.”


North Korea must end persecution

Amnesty international has urged North Korea to release all those detained solely for their religious beliefs. An American tourist was arrested after he left a Bible at a hotel. The state news agency KCNA said the man had entered North Korea on 29 April and was detained when he tried to leave the country.

This comes days after KCNA reported that South Korean missionary Kim Jong-uk had been sentenced to hard labour for life for spying and setting up an underground church. “Kim Jong-uk is likely to be sent to one of North Korea’s gruesome prison camps, where torture, forced labour, and denial of food as punishment are common,” said an Amnesty spokesperson.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, countless numbers of nationals and foreigners have been severely punished as a result of their attempt to practice their religious beliefs.


May 2014 marked six years since seven adults were taken from their homes and thrown into the notorious Evin prison in Iran, “For the Bahá’ís imprisoned in Iran, freedom and human rights seem remote,” noted Nazil Ghanea in the New Statesman on 6 June.

Mr. Kenneth E. Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, told a hearing on religious freedom in the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs (HFAC) Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organization that since the inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in August 2013 systematic abuses against Iran’s Bahá’í community had increased.

Since that time, a Bahá’í has been killed in a religiously motivated murder, and a Bahá’í family has been stabbed by a masked intruder in their home; there has been no progress in the investigation of either case. According to the Bahá’í International Community (BIC), two Bahá’í cemeteries have also been attacked, and, in January 2014, the number of Bahá’ís in prison in Iran reached a two-decade high of 136.

Early Day Motions tabled for new session

MPs have welcomed the new Parliamentary session with a number of Early Day Motions focusing on issues of Freedom of Religion or Belief. APPG vice chair Naomi Long has tabled two: one calls for the the preservation of the right to religious freedom or belief for Christians in the Arab world; the other focuses on the case of Meriam Ibrahim.

Jim Shannon has tabled two EDMs on the persecution of Christians in Africa, one referring to the detention of Christian convert Hassan Hussain Mohammed in Kenya; the second condemns the bomb attacks by Boko Haram against Christians in the Nigerian cities of Kanu and Jos.

Several written questions have also been put down: three from the Bishop of Coventry focus on the place of freedom of religion or belief in funds granted under the UK’s Human Rights and Democracy Programme.

Increasing Hate & Violence against Sikhs Worldwide

The Sikh Siyasat Network has issued a report highlighting a rising number of incidents of hate, violence and bias against Sikhs worldwide, including the August 2012 massacre of Sikhs by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; the hate-motivated attack on an 80-year-old Sikh outside a Sikh temple in California; and the shooting of a Sikh in Port Orange, Florida while he was driving a car with his 13-year-old son. The research has been compiled through research, field observations, surveys, and input on Sikh issues from local residents and lawyers in countries around the world, as well as reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Burma: new threat to Religious Freedom

The Huffington Post reports that the Burmese Government is seeking public approval for a religious conversion bill that has been put forward by Buddhist monks which would require anyone wishing to change their faith to gain approval from local authorities beforehand. The article states that the Bill was published in state-run newspapers and aims to protect the right to religious freedom or belief by preventing people from being pressurised into changing religions. Under the Bill, anyone who forces another to convert will be jailed for at least a year.

On 12 June, following the Burmese government’s invitation for public opinion on a proposed Religious Conversion Law, 81 organisations from Burma and elsewhere recommended that it be completely discarded. More

Christians under Threat in Middle East

Syria’s Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, Gregory III, has said that over a thousand Christians have been killed in the Syrian conflict since it erupted three years ago, and 24 villages cleared of all their Christian inhabitants. He insisted that the church has a key role to play in reconciliation, but also suggested that the threat to the Christian presence in the Middle East was such that the Middle East could soon be devoid of Christians.