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Religious Liberty in Europe (1)

8/6/2006 - 5:00 AM PST

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Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, AUGUST 06, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is an adapted excerpt from a report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need on religious freedom.

This installment deals with Europe. Part 2 will appear early next week.

* * *

Armenia

The right to freedom of worship was fully respected in 2005 in Armenia.

The ecumenical dialogue between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church is very lively, as also confirmed by the telegram sent by the Catholicos Karekin II for the death of Pope John Paul II.

There are still problems concerning military service. On this subject, more than 20 Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested in 2005 for having refused to do their military service for religious reasons. They all later also abandoned community service, objecting to the fact that it was not really an alternative to military service since it comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense.

On the basis of the commitments undertaken with the Council of Europe, Armenia was meant to have implemented community service as of Jan. 1, 2004.

Azerbaijan

Problems linked to military service were apparent in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-majority enclave of Azerbaijan, where compulsory military service is justified, and where conscientious objectors for religious reasons are often imprisoned.

Belgium

On March 20, 2005, after the formulation of a detailed electoral law, elections were held in Belgium for electing the 68 members of the Belgian Council of Islamic Communities, which then appointed an executive committee of 17 people to act as interlocutors with the government authorities.

Numerous observers remarked that the administration's hyperactive secular attitude follows almost to the letter the French one. That attitude caused serious controversies and restrictive provisions against the new religious movements, both on the subject of "brainwashing" and against Muslims, especially as far as the women's Islamic veils are concerned.

Belarus

On Nov. 12, 2002, a new law on freedom of worship came into force in Belarus, attributing the role of the country's official religion to Orthodoxy, and acknowledging the "Catholic Church's spiritual, cultural and historical role in the territory of Belarus," as well as the "inalienability of the Lutheran Church from the history of this nation."

Orthodox Judaism and Sunni Islam are also recognized.

The state says it has a duty to defend the Orthodox Church from sects, which are considered dangerous and severely punished. The authorities therefore control all religious activities very strictly.

As a consequence of this law, all religious communities must re-register. Most have managed to comply with all that is requested, but a certain number (22 of the 2,783 organizations existing in 2002) have not managed to obtain new registration due to problems linked to the absence of a legally valid address, or because their statutes or number of members did not satisfy legal requirements.

In particular, the Orthodox Churches operating independently from the Moscow Patriarchate encountered problems.

The government has declared illegal the religious activities of all non-registered communities and has adopted strict measures to enforce the restrictions.

In 2005 the Charismatic Church of the New Life, the New Generation Church and Hare Krishna were the object of persecution.

Cyprus

During a visit to Moscow in January 2006, President Tassos Papandopoulos of Cyprus accused Turkey of destroying Christian churches in the northern part of the island, controlled by the government in Ankara.

According to the president, quoted by the Interfax news agency, "the criminal Turkish occupation" over the past 30 years has led to the "organized looting of holy places and the systematic plundering" of the Orthodox cultural heritage in northern Cyprus.

On that same morning, Papandopoulos also met the Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, and during this meeting reported that 350 churches have been destroyed or used for entertainment, and even as stables for cattle.

France

France's interventionist attitude on the subject of new religions led to the establishment of the Interministerial Monitoring Mission Against Sectarian Abuses (Miviludes) and the drafting of a "black list" of groups apparently belonging to sects. This attitude was corrected with a circular letter from the prime minister to replace this list with assessment criteria drawn from the Miviludes' conclusions.

The Conseil franšais du culte musulman (CFCM) is recognized as the state's interlocutor for relations with Muslims.

The council has reported of initiatives for integrating through language courses ...

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