On Wednesday 21st October 2015, Peter van Dalen MEP hosted a conference in the European Parliament, Brussels, with Susan Kerr from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), on Defending Freedoms of Religion and Belief for Minorities in Asia.

The conference audience heard detailed reports from civil society organisations regarding the state of religious pluralism in China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India. These described how minorities in China and Vietnam are suffering restrictions through excessive government intervention aiming to control societal forces; while in India and Sri Lanka, we are witnessing a rise in religious extremism which is inspiring societal hostility and structural biases.

Peter van Dalen MEP made clear his determination to ensure the EU responds to these injustices “Our Intergroup exists to ensure that the EU promotes and protects freedoms of religion or belief in all its external relations, including in trade negotiations. Most recently, for example, I formally requested that the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with India examines the state of pluralism in India. Because India is the world’s largest democracy and wields such significant influence in the region, I believe India deserves special attention. It is time that the rights of India’s religious minorities are defended.”

Sophia Kuby of ADF International presented extensive evidence on India at the meeting, including a case from November 4 2014, in which Pastor Harikishan Rana and six other Christians were attacked in the town of Bhopal by a mob of 250 people, led by local Hindutva fundamentalists who demanded he close his Church. He refused, and their homes were broken into; they were stripped naked and their belongings were stolen.

A 2015 Pew Research Centre report found that India scores “Very high” in the social hostilities category facing religious minorities, and in the “High” category on government restrictions.

Five Indian states have already adopted Anti-Conversion laws which restrict the freedoms of religious minorities to share their faith. UN special rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt critically described the “high penalty of three years imprisonment based on loosely defined terms” in the state law of Gujarat. In September an Anti-Conversion laws were also tabled in the state of Maharashtra, and at India’s National Parliament by way of a Private Members Bill.

Also at the conference was EEAS representative Ms. Nicole Reckinger, who – referring to the Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief, of which Mr. van Dalen MEP is co-Chairman – said at the event “The EEAS shares the Intergroup’s dream that all people should enjoy freedoms of religion or belief. This should not be called just a European value, but a universal value.” She also described the concrete actions being taken to implement the EU Guidelines in country delegations, and expressed her anticipation at continuing to cooperate with the Intergroup, and civil society toward fulfilling this dream.

Altogether, the event propelled discussion and concrete strategies – particularly between the European Parliament and the EEAS, with the support of civil society – toward defending and promoting access to FoRB in the region.

If would like to know more, or to see photos of the event, please contact jonathan.deleyser@ep.europa.eu. You may also follow Mr. van Dalen’s work in this area, by following him on Twitter: @petervdalen and the Intergroup @FoRB_Europarl, and our website www.religiousfreedom.eu.

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