Newsletter - UN Report Attacks Religious Freedom

Posted on: March 13, 2020


March 12, 2020

Dear Readers,

In this newsletter, we bring you news about a recent United Nations report on gender equality that is an attack on religious freedom; the continuing story of the police investigation of a Christian MP from Finland; and the story of a Christian convert from Iran facing deportation from the United Kingdom.

Have you seen our Report 2019? Please have a look at our review of areas of pressure, including violence, that Christians face in Europe. The report features guest essays and contains descriptions of more than 325 incidents from 14 countries. It is available here.

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Ellen Fantini
Executive Director


UN Report on Gender Discrimination Attacks Religious Freedom

A United Nations report to address "gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion or belief" was strongly criticized by Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Vatican observer to United Nations in Geneva. “The report, at least in part, is actually an attack on freedom of religion or belief as well as freedom of conscience,” he said. 

The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief was discussed on March 2 at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. The Report attacks "worldwide religious precepts [underlying] laws and state-sanctioned practices that constitute violations of the rights to non-discrimination of women, girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+)."

Here is what the Rapporteur really means:
  • Abortion should be legal.
    "The Special Rapporteur notes that in a number of countries around the world, governments continue to maintain partial or total bans on access to abortion, and religious figures have both encouraged these measures and advocated against efforts to reform the laws."
  • Conscientious objection is just an excuse to restrict access to abortion.
    "One area of particular concern regarding accommodations to national law for religious beliefs is the use of conscientious objection by healthcare providers and institutions unwilling to perform abortions or provide access to contraception on religious grounds." 
  • Questioning gender ideology and promoting traditional values is pseudoscience and discriminates against women.
    "The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned ... that religious interest groups are engaged in campaigns characterizing rights advocates working to combat gender-based discrimination as ‘immoral’ actors, seeking to undermine society by espousing ‘a gender ideology’ that is harmful to children, families, tradition and religion. Invoking religious tenets as well as pseudoscience, such actors argue for the defence of traditional values rooted in interpretations of religious teachings about the social roles for men and women in accordance with their alleged naturally different physical and mental capacities; often calling on governments to enact discriminatory policies."
Archbishop Jurkovic noted that "the Report seems to focus less on the protection of men and women, of any faith or personal belief, that are persecuted or discriminated against (a still too vivid reality for millions of persons worldwide), and more on pushing a vision of human society that is not shared by all and does not reflect the social, cultural and religious reality of many peoples."

Read more here (thanks to Andrea Gagliarducci for permission to re-print his article).

Investigation of Christian MP Continues

On March 2nd, member of the Finnish Parliament Päivi Räsänen faced a police interrogation because of a tweet she posted in June 2019. The tweet was directed at the leadership of her church and questioned its official sponsorship of the LGBT event “Pride 2019”, accompanied by an image of a bible text.

After attending a lengthy police interview in November 2019, she faced a second interrogation regarding a pamphlet she wrote over 16 years ago on human sexuality for a Christian foundation.

The police had already decided to drop the investigation into Mrs. Räsänen’s pamphlet and concluded that there were no grounds to proceed with a prosecution under the law prohibiting “ethnic agitation” – an offense that carries a prison sentence of up to two years. However, the Prosecutor General reopened the criminal investigation. 

Responding to the police investigation, she said:

“I never thought I would face a criminal investigation for sharing my deeply held beliefs. It came as a total surprise. As a Christian and a democratically elected Member of Parliament, I have often heard things with which I disagree – sometimes very strongly. At times, I have felt insulted. I believe the best response to this is more debate, not censorship.

These police investigations raise concerns about limiting the freedoms that have been guaranteed in our Constitution and in international human right treaties. A major threat for freedom of religion and free speech is that we don’t make use of these rights. I hope these criminal investigations won’t lead to self-censorship among Christians. I am going to use my rights regardless of the police investigation. I encourage others to do the same.”

Read more herehere, and here.
Christian Convert Faces Deportation to Iran


Reza Karkah, an Iranian Christian, faces the prospect of imprisonment, torture and separation from his wife and child after the UK Home Office rejected his application for asylum on the basis that he was ‘fabricating’ his Christian faith.

Reza Karkah, 38, lives in Bradford with his wife Leigh Riley and their four-year-old daughter, Rosie. He is facing deportation back to Iran after a tribunal in 2018 concluded that deportation would not "expose him to a real act of persecution."

Mr, Karkah came to the UK in 2003 but his initial asylum bid was rejected a year later. He became a Christian in 2015 through a local church's outreach programme. He has been active in his church, being involved in outreach to Iranian Muslims and translating church services from English to Farsi. 

His second asylum application in 2016 was rejected when the judge ruled that he had fabricated his Christian faith on the basis of the answers he gave to 150 questions in which he failed to correctly identify who betrayed Jesus and the denomination of his independent evangelical church. He also failed to answer a question on his favourite Bible passage, which the CLC said was because he had misinterpreted the word 'passage'.

The official further deemed that separation from his British wife and child would "not be unduly harsh."

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who came to the UK after experiencing persecution in Pakistan, met Mr Karkah and his wife, and said he found them to be "entirely sincere in their Christian faith and life."

"We continue to encourage the authorities in Iran to respect fundamental freedoms but it remains a dangerous place for Christian converts from Islam and Reza is at real risk of losing his liberty or even his life, whether judicially or extra judicially and deserves protection for himself and for the sake of his young family," he said.

Read more here.


Have you heard or read about an incident in Europe negatively affecting Christians or Christian buildings, symbols, or institutions? Have you been assaulted, threatened, or discriminated against because of your Christian faith? Have you been verbally harassed and silenced when stating a Christian position?

Please tell us your story or send us a link. You can email us here, or click REPORT A CASE on our website.

Observatory in the news: view recent articles quoting the Observatory here.

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