Persecution for Faith in the World. Facts and Testimony.
On November 25, 2020, the Czech Republic covered in red to remember along with many other countries over the world the Red Wednesday – international initiative established by the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to remember those who cannot practice their faith freely throughout the world. Therefore, we (IKDP together with Czech Bishops’ Conference, Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic and Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic) organised for another yearly conference on persecution for faith, this time named “Persecution for Faith in the World. Facts and Testimony.
Although it was not possible due to the pandemic situation to have all speakers and the audience in one place, the modern, technological conveniences allowed for having foreign speakers connected online and to stream/broadcast the conference online – on several pages on Facebook and through a Czech Catholic TV channel. The Czech speakers including the moderator Mr Daniel Raus, chairman of Administrative Board of IKDP and former MEP Mr Pavel Svoboda and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Mr Tomáš Petříček gathered with the technical support in the Hall of Patriots in Carolinum (Charles University, Prague).
The programme was as follows:
I. Panel: Facts – Situation of the Faithful in the World from the Czech and Slovak Perspective
- Opening of the Conference by the Moderator
- Greeting Speech of the Rector of Charles University Mr Tomáš Zima
- Opening Remarks
-Czech Bishops’ Conference – Stanislav Přibyl
-Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic – Petr Jan Vinš
-Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic – Tomáš Kraus
- Introductory Speech: Pavel Svoboda
- Tomáš Petříček, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic
- Ján Figeľ, Former EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU and Former Member of European Commission responsible for Education, Training, Culture and Youth (online)
- Panel Discussion of Mr’s Petříček, Svoboda and Figeľ on the current situation of the faithful in the world, led by the moderator
II.Panel: Facts – Situation of the Faithful in the World from the Perspective of Foreign Personalities
- Opening of the II. Panel by the Moderator
- Rabbi Avi-Nehama Tawil, Director of European Jewish Community Centre (Brussels): Can Religion Foster Freedom for All? (online)
- Benedict Rogers, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW; London): Persecution for Faith in Asia (China, North Korea, Burma/Myanmar and Indonesia) (online)
- Marcela Szymanski, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) (online)
- Panel Discussion – with questions from the online audience asked through the moderator
III. Panel: Testimony
- Opening of the III. Panel by the Moderator
- Introduction of the speeches of the eyewitnesses: Marcela Szymanski (online)
- Yohanna Petros Mouche, Archbishop from Mosul (online)
- Falah Hassan, Nadia’s Initiative (representative of the Yazidis) (online)
- Akmal Bhatti, Lawyer and Chairman of Minorities Alliance Pakistan: Freedom of Religion or Belief in Pakistan (online)
- Father Joseph Fidelis of Maiduguri, Nigeria: Islamist fundamentalism and the ethnoreligious cleansing of 100 million Christians (online)
- Panel Discussion – with questions from the online audience asked through the moderator
It was repeatedly stated at the conference that freedom of religion is figuratively speaking a litmus test of other human freedoms. As Pavel Svoboda said, the majority of European society mistakenly think that if they are atheist, they do not have to be interested in freedom of religion, but the opposite is true: thanks to freedom of religion, they also have the free opportunity to be non-religious/atheist/disbeliever. And as Petr Jan Vinš said, because we can freely profess our faith, we must work to ensure that this is the case in the world too. Ján Figeľ reminded that it is appropriate to act preventively, on time, and not only reflectively. Tomáš Petříček reminded that religious freedom is a guarantee of respect, diversity and a path to tolerance; on the contrary, the absence of this freedom leads to the violation of other human rights, but it is also an indicator of possible instability, violence and conflict, which can result in serious crimes against humanity or even genocide. Ján Figeľ shared his rich experience, pointing out that human rights are the basis of human dignity and the faith and beliefs of an individual are part of his/her identity. Where there is religious freedom, there is stronger economic growth, security for all and therefore peace for all. Ján Figeľ also mentioned that in addition to CSR (corporate social responsibility), it would also be appropriate to have religious social responsibility.
Ben Rogers pointed out that not only Christians are persecuted. Christians are the most persecuted group in number and geography, but there is a genocide of the Muslim population in Myanmar and a genocide of Uighurs (Muslims) in China. Among other things, Marcela Szymanski recalled the quote of the Archbishop of Erbil (“When there is one religion, it is a dictatorship. When there are two religions, they go after each other. When there are three or more religions, each goes its own way.”) and the fact that freedom of religion has three dimensions: to have or not to have a religion (1), to change one’s religion (2), and to manifest one’s religion – individually or in community, in private or in public (3). The third dimension is currently most often challenged and suppressed.
The most interesting part were the testimonies.
In the speech of Archbishop Mouche, whose pre-recorded speech was the first in the third panel, there was hope that everything is going to be better again. In Karakosh, life has returned to “normal”. In October 2016, the plains of Nineveh and the city of Mosul were liberated, and despite the fact that members of Daesh burned the city of Karakosh a few days before that, the first four families dared to return to Karakosh in February 2017 and to start to live there over again. In June 2017, there were already about 600 families living there, now 25–26 thousand people, which is about 60 % of the population before the attacks. Financial aid for the repair of houses, craftsmen’s workshops, farms and gardens, as well as churches, has come to them from different parts of the world, from charities, some governments, and even from individuals as one Sunni Muslim. (The city of Karakosh and its restoration is almost accompanied by a legend saying that when Muslims saw that a Christian church was being repaired here, they gained security and returned there too.) Nevertheless, the archbishop lamented that the current pandemic situation around COVID-19 also negatively affected life there.
The next speech, the testimony of Falah Hassan, a representative of the Yazidis and of Nadia’s Initiative, was not as optimistic. The ethnic-religious community which mixes many religions hardly finds support in the world, yet many would rather flee and die at sea between Turkey and Greece than stay in their homeland. The town of Sinjar, less than 160 km away from Karakosh, where Falah comes from, has not been restored yet, the buildings have not been reconstructed. The Yazidis do not trust the Iraqi government at all, the government would not let them ascend to power, and whichever party is in power, it always uses and oppresses the Yazidis. The Yazidis have gone through 72 genocides in their history, the last of which took place in 2014, after which 100,000–200,000 Yazidis emigrated from Iraq – about 1,000 were received by Germany, 100 families by France, others by Canada and Australia. They would need their own leadership and defense. In 2006, Yazidis began to be murdered in and around Mosul on the basis of the identity written on their ID card, and at the end of August 2014, ISIS/Daesh attacked Sinjar where they had been held under promise of protection by Kurds who, however, did not defend Yazidis at all after ISIS invaded. All Yazidis were given two options: death or conversion to Islam. Thousands became hostages, slaves, some like Nadia Murad, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, or Falah Hassan, managed to flee to Kurdistan where they stayed in camps. Perpetrators of Yazidi crimes are being released from prison and witnesses to their actions are in constant danger.
Neither did the contributions of Akmal Bhatti, a lawyer from Pakistan, or Father Fidelis from Nigeria bring good news. Blasphemy law is in force in Pakistan, and many of Akmal Bhatti’s colleagues have been assassinated by fanatics simply for discussing the possibility of repealing the law. Pakistan was founded in 1947 on the principles of equality, brotherhood and freedom, but the current situation is definitely not that way: 96 % of the inhabitants are Muslims and the remaining 4 % are oppressed, and women’s rights are also suppressed. Christian girls are abducted, raped, and forced to convert to Islam. People (Christians) are lynched, for example, for having washed themselves at a well used by Muslims who consider the well therefore polluted. Christians are also murdered only for having moved to a neighbourhood inhabited mostly by Muslims who, however, consider their neighbourhoods to be purely Muslim and believe that Christians have nothing to do there. In Nigeria, the situation is worsening permanently, and now even more so during the pandemic because people are in their homes but terrorists and attackers do not care about a possible lock-down and find easy victims of their attacks instead and burn entire villages. Millions of people are internally displaced and live in camps. Women are treated as inferior. Minorities are permanently under attack by Boko Haram and the herdsmen of the Fulani tribe. Persecution of Christians in Nigeria takes many forms – they are attacked, their places for washing, medical facilities and schools are destroyed and burned, they are prevented from working, making it impossible for them to earn money, moreover, Christians are mostly farmers, and so, for example, (semi-)nomadic herders of the Fulani tribe often deliberately drop their cattle herds on the farm lands of Christians, depriving them of food. Christians are also stopped in cars, pulled out of them and killed, while Muslim drivers can continue to drive… The Nigerian government know about this but do nothing in their favour and to help them, and so it is necessary to raise awareness so that they do not have to live in permanent fear anymore.
The closing remarks were delivered by Mr Pavel Svoboda who inter alia sadly mentioned that it had been already the fourth year of the conference and each year, we await some good news but there are none yet. As the moderator said, we believe that one day, the Red Wednesday will no longer be necessary to be remembered, but until then, we will remember it regularly.
The three panels of the conference were followed by a Jewish-Christian prayer and already a traditional procession around buildings lit up in red (route: Carolinum – Church of St. Havel – Church of St. Nicholas at the Old Town Square – Old-New Synagogue).
Next year’s Red Wednesday and again this traditional conference will take place on November 24, 2021.
Please feel free to watch the recording of this year’s conference now or anytime below.
I. Panel: Facts – Situation of the Faithful in the World from the Czech and Slovak Perspective.
II. Panel: Facts – Situation of the Faithful in the World from the Perspective of Foreign Personalities.
III. Panel: Testimony