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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

OSCE COMMITMENTS: CENTRAL ASIA: OSCE Conference on Intolerance regional survey

As participants prepare for the forthcoming OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, Forum 18 News Service notes that religious believers face intolerance in the form of attacks on their internationally agreed rights to religious freedom – mainly from their governments – in many countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states religious communities are still being vilified, fined and imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are being broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied state registration and hence the domestic legal right to exist. Events in Uzbekistan offer one warning of what the persistent intolerance of religious freedom and other internationally agreed human rights can lead to.

OSCE COMMITMENTS: OSCE CONFERENCE ON DISCRIMINATION – A REGIONAL SURVEY

Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.

SERBIA: Religious freedom survey, August 2004

In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service notes the problems caused by a proposed draft religion bill, religious education in schools, and physical attacks on religious minorities. However, alternative civilian service regulations have been introduced, so conscientious objectors to military service are not now prosecuted. In a listing of attacks on religious minorities in 2003, Forum 18 records that Evangelical-Methodists, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Serbian Evangelicals, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, Romany Pentecostals, Baptists, Hare Krishna devotees, Catholics, and Muslims were all victims of different types of attack in 2003, ranging from hate speech and graffiti to physical assaults. A noted church-state commentator, Mirko Djordevic, has told Forum 18 that "we cannot say that the religious freedom of Serbian citizens is threatened, but different confessions limit each others freedom." Pavel Domonji, from the Helsinki Committee, observed to Forum 18 that "Small religious communities are often under attack. It is probably because they form trans-national communities, where every believer is a member, regardless of their ethnic background."

KOSOVO & SERBIA: Destruction worse than initially believed, and violence sparks incidents in Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia

At least 28 people were killed, about 1,000 injured and 30 Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo were destroyed during the recent violence by Albanian mobs against the minority Serbian population, KFOR and UNMIK units. Numbers are not yet final. The Serbian Orthodox Church is today demanding that German KFOR troops be withdrawn from duty in for "incompetence" during the violence, as they failed to save from destruction ten historic churches and other Orthodox property. Witnesses stated that the German KFOR troops did nothing to protect any of the sites. Also, the diocese blames UNMIK for failing to protect its sites in the period from 1999 to before the present violence, during which 112 Orthodox churches were destroyed without any attackers being arrested. In Serbia, the authorities have arrested 120 people for attacks against mosques in Belgrade and Nis, and religious leaders, political parties and the government have joined in condemned the burning of the two mosques. City officials have promised to refurbish the Belgrade mosque, and the police chief and his deputy have been fired. However, the Kosovo violence also probably sparked incidents elsewhere in Serbia, and in neighbouring Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia.

COMMENTARY: What about religious freedom?

In this personal commentary contributed to Forum 18 News Service www.forum18.org , Arie de Pater, director of Jubilee Campaign NL, argues that the European Union (EU) should pay greater attention to restrictions on religious freedom in many of the ten states which will join the EU in May 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia) and in states that hope to join any further expansion (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania & Turkey potentially due from 2007). Drawing on a report on religious freedom in the candidate countries, compiled by Jubilee Campaign NL with the assistance of Forum 18 and others, published today (2 December 2003), he notes that even in the first batch of accession countries, criticism of religious law and practice can be levelled at the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. He questions why the European Commission's 2003 Comprehensive Regular Report makes no criticism of Bulgaria's new denominations act, which has been sharply criticised in Bulgaria and abroad.

SLOVENIA: New religion bill will be neutral, drafter insists

In the face of concerns from some minority religious communities, law professor Lovro Sturm, director of the Institute of Human Rights, told Forum 18 News Service that his and his team's faith "will have no impact" on the way they draft Slovenia's new religion bill. "I am a little bit worried because of his position and ties to the Catholic Church," Adventist leader Zmago Godina told Forum 18. "We want the new law explicitly to assure the equality of all religious communities, without preferences for any on the basis of their size or tradition," Godina added, in views echoed by Lutheran bishop Geza Ernisa and others. The government's Office for Religious Communities chose Sturm's Institute in July to prepare the new bill, which Sturm says will be sent to the Office by the end of December. The government must then approve it before it goes to parliament.

SLOVENIA: Hindus registered, but others still wait

"We are very happy to get registration, of course," Natasa Sivic, leader of Slovenia's Hindu community, told Forum 18 News Service. Her community – one of three religious groups granted registration in August by Drago Cepar, head of the government's Office for Religious Communities – had been waiting seventeen months. Among the seven Cepar identified to Forum 18 as having lodged registration applications is the Christian Outreach Centre in Ljubljana. "My husband was told at the religious office that they couldn't accept any new communities because as Slovenia is joining the European Union all laws need to be changed," co-pastor Carol Vidic told Forum 18. "That was their excuse."

SLOVENIA: Registration breakthrough for minority faiths

Fifteen months after applying for registration, the Calvary Chapel Protestant church in Celje became on 7 August the first new religious community to be granted registration in Slovenia since 1999. The registration of the Tibetan Buddhist Dharmaling association followed on 22 August. The head of the government's Office for Religious Communities, Drago Cepar, who until this month had refused to register any new communities, met Hindu leader Natasa Sivic on 25 August. "He promised to register us this week," she told Forum 18 News Service. "It has been a big problem not having registration." The Hindus have been waiting for registration for seventeen months.

OSCE COMMITMENTS: OSCE MEETING ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION - A REGIONAL SURVEY

Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.

SLOVENIA: Pressure mounts on beleaguered senior religious official

Pressure is mounting on Drago Cepar, Office for Religious Communities director, not to block registration applications. Ten communities are known to have applied since Cepar became director three years ago but their applications languish unanswered. Government secretary Mirko Bandelj wrote to Cepar on 12 June instructing him to "handle promptly" the registration of the Dharmaling Buddhist group. The ombudsman has also urged him to register the Buddhists and the Stoic Pantheists, who have also complained of denial of registration. "The problem in our opinion is with the religious affairs office, which does not respond to the applications," Barbara Samaluk of the ombudsman's office told Forum 18 News Service. "I really wonder how such discrimination can still take place in a country which will enter Europe next year!" Abbot Gelong Shenphen of the Dharmaling community told Forum 18.

SLOVENIA: No response to Buddhist or Hindu registration applications

Fifteen months after the Hindus lodged a registration application with the Office for Religious Communities and five months after the Buddhists lodged theirs, neither community has had any official response from the Office. "The law says an answer has to be given within two months," the abbot of the community, Gelong Shenphen, told Forum 18 News Service. Both the Hindus and the Buddhists blame Office director Drago Cepar for the impasse. He has not registered any religious communities since he took office three years ago. Cepar has been unavailable by telephone since 3 June and has failed to respond to Forum 18's written questions as to why the registration applications of ten religious communities have been stalled.