religious groups

Crimean Tatars sentenced in Russian court

On 16 September, a court in the Russian Federation sentenced seven Crimean Tatars to up to 19 years in prison. The individuals are accused of being members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group, which is an illegal entity in Russia, including in Russian-occupied Crimea, but the group remains legal in Ukraine. Read more

Crimean Tatars sentenced in Russian court


Quran burning sparks protests in Malmö

On 28th August 2020, the leader of Denmark’s extremist Hard Line party, Rasmus Paludan, was stopped on his way to Malmö where he was planning to hold an anti-Islam demonstration. He was subsequently deported and denied access to the country for two years. This did not deter his supporters from posting videos of themselves burning and kicking the Quran (Islam’s holy book). Three people were arrested on suspicion of hate crimes. This sparked 300 inhabitants of the Rosengård district of Malmö to riot. In a separate development, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg kicked off global socially distanced climate protests on 25th September 2020 outside the Swedish parliament.
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Quran burning sparks protests in Malmö

Fiji authorities stifles airing of debate and continues prosecution of trade union leader

In August 2020, the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, ordered the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation to stop a religious debate from being aired while trade unionist Felix Anthony appeared in court on trial for his activism. In early September 2020, the Fiji parliament passed amendments to the Companies Act to include provisions on reporting that could be used to publicly undermine the credibility of NGOs and an opposition gathering was shut down by the police. Read more

Fiji authorities stifles airing of debate and continues prosecution of trade union leader

Climate activists detained; clashes at anti-Islam protest

On 29th August 2020 an anti-Islam protest was staged in Oslo by the Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN), a far-right anti-Islam group. During the protest a member of the group ripped pages out of the Quran (the Islamic holy book) and proceeded to spit on them. A counter demonstration was also staged calling for “no racism on our streets”. Clashes erupted between the groups, with authorities using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the groups and arresting 29 people. In a separate development, on the morning of 21st September 2020, around 40 climate protesters from Extinction Rebellion were arrested in Oslo.
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Climate activists detained; clashes at anti-Islam protest

UN expert’s mandate renewed, Christians face continued persecution

A resolution adopted to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for a further year; American-Eritrean political prisoner Ciham Ali Ahmed, who has been in prison since she was 15 years old, has seen the first commitment from an American politician, Kamala Harris, concerning her case, which has been ongoing for eight years; Eritrea has continued with its repression of Christians, with reported cases of arrest and detention of Christians from minority church groups Read more

UN expert’s mandate renewed, Christians face continued persecution

Thousands gather for Black Lives Matter protest; Facebook bans images of Zwarte Piet

Several protests took place during the reporting period. On 5th July 2020, about a thousand Brussels students staged a protest under the name of #HijabisFightBack, at Mont des Arts over a headscarf (Hijab) ban at Brussels university college. In June 2020, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Brussels to express their support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. According to local police, an estimated 10,000 people gathered outside the Palace of Justice. The protest was peaceful for the most part, however, a confrontation between the demonstrators and police erupted towards the end of the event. At least a 150 people were arrested. In August 2020, Facebook updated its hate speech policy and introduced a ban on images of blackface and anti-Semitic tropes. Blackface is a controversial subject in Belgium (and the Netherlands) because of the “Zwarte Piet” (Black Pete) practice, a Christmas tradition of donning blackface. The ban has sparked debates on racisms in the country.
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Thousands gather for Black Lives Matter protest; Facebook bans images of Zwarte Piet

New law seeks to threaten media freedom as journalists face attacks

Post-election celebrations in Montenegro, following the victory of three opposition coalitions, have caused several incidents in Budva, Niksic, Herceg Novi, Podgorica, Pljevlja and Bar. According to the police, during the celebrations there were cases of attacks on police officers, physical attacks on other persons, insults on nationalistic grounds and mass fights. Just before the elections, hundreds of people staged the largest protest so far against the proposed controversial Law on Religion which makes provision for a list of religious sites in the country. However following a ban on religious gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Serbian Orthodox Church found new ways to mobilise its supporters, through online or “automobile gatherings” on the streets. In a concerning development for media freedom, in late July 2020, the Parliament of Montenegro adopted a new Media Law which states that a journalist must reveal their sources at the request of the Prosecutor's Office if it is "necessary to protect the interests of national security, territorial integrity and health". Read more

New law seeks to threaten media freedom as journalists face attacks

Government bans open-air religious gatherings, interrupting protests by Serbian Orthodox church

Amid the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Montenegro, the names of citizens who were ordered to self-isolate had been disclosed by the government. In reaction to this, NGO Civil Alliance brought an appeal against this decision, stating that this violated these citizens constitutional right to privacy. In mid-June 2020, after a three-month break due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a protest liturgy of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) was held in Podgorica. The gathering, which was attended by thousands of citizens, was peaceful. However, 10 days later, the National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases announced that open-air religious gatherings would be prohibited. On a positive note, Parliament has voted to legalise same-sex civil partnerships in Montenegro Read more

Government bans open-air religious gatherings, interrupting protests by Serbian Orthodox church

Protests over Serbian Orthodox bishops’ detention; worst rating for press freedom in Western Balkans

In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, there was no coordination between CSOs and the government, which is reflected in the fact that CSO representatives were not included in any of the established crisis bodies. During the pandemic, police detained a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church for holding a prayer gathering in a monastery and thus defying the ban on social gatherings. In reaction to the arrest of the Serbian Orthodox bishop, several hundred citizens held protests in several Montenegrin towns. The protests became violent, with police using tear gas and shock bombs to disperse the crowds and some protesters were detained. Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index finds that Montenegro's press freedom is in decline as it is the worst rated county in the Western Balkan region. Read more

Protests over Serbian Orthodox bishops’ detention; worst rating for press freedom in Western Balkans

Peaceful Assembly affected by COVID-19 restrictions

Gatherings restricted due to Covid-19; Individual fined for establishing religious association; New report documents incidents of attack against journalists; MPs prepare to vote on new media Bill Read more

Peaceful Assembly affected by COVID-19 restrictions