Felix Corley of the Forum 18 – for a true freedom of religion

By Milena Rampoldi,
ProMosaik. In the following my interview with Felix  Corley of the humanitarian organization Forum 18. Would like to
thank him for his words about the objectives of Forum 18 and about the importance
of struggling against religious discrimination to promote true freedom of religion.
Our role at Forum 18 is to
provide original, reliable and detailed monitoring and analyses of threats and
actions against the freedom of religion and belief of all people, whatever
their religion or belief (including atheism and agnosticism), in an objective,
truthful and timely manner. We are totally committed to the ability of all
people to exercise this human right with no exceptions.
Working since 2003, we take our
name from Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
similar Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
a core international human rights treaty.
We publish on the states of the
former Soviet Union which are the worst violators of this fundamental human
right, and also publish analyses on Turkey. While some other countries around
the world violate the right to freedom of religion or belief – at times more
severely than in the region we cover – this is the region we know the best and
can provide accurate coverage of.
The primary goal of many of the
governments of the region is to control society. This means that in addition to
restricting individuals’ rights to conduct free journalism, freely form
political parties or organise free trade unions, they also restrict
individuals’ rights to freedom of religion or belief.
In many of the countries it is
illegal to: organise religious meetings unless you have state permission;
print, publish, import or distribute religious literature without undergoing
state censorship; speak publicly to others about your faith; invite foreigners
(and at times even local citizens) to address your religious community without
state permission; and certain religious communities are arbitrarily banned from
gaining state permission to function (Muslims outside the framework of the
state-backed Muslim Boards, in some places Protestant Christians or Jehovah’s
Witnesses). Clothing that meets individuals’ religious requirements is often
banned or discouraged (for example, hijabs in Tajikistan).
Punishments for violating these
restrictions include fines, imprisonment (on 10 July Kazakhstan handed down its
20th criminal conviction in 2017 for exercising freedom of religion
or belief), confiscation of books or other property (even of places of
worship), threats (including of rape) and deportation.
These restrictions apply to all
people and religious communities within a country. Occasionally, some
governments have imposed extra restrictions on one particular faith
(Azerbaijan’s extra restrictions on who can lead Muslim communities, or
Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses).
Forum 18 seeks to ensure that
our monitoring and analyses are disseminated as effectively and widely as
possible. All our news articles are posted on our website and we are also on
Twitter (@Forum_18) and Facebook @Forum18NewsService.
Our target audiences include
diplomats, human rights defenders, journalists, victims of human rights
violations, members of religious or belief communities, academics and people
around the world. Geographically, our target audiences are those with a
professional or personal strong interest involving freedom of religion and
belief in the territories (almost all the former Soviet Union plus Turkey) we
Because of the decline in
respect for freedom of religion and belief and human rights generally by
governments in the states Forum 18 monitors, people and communities who have
experienced freedom of religion and belief violations are often reluctant to
publicly document freedom of religion and belief and related human rights
violations. This makes it more difficult and time-consuming than in earlier
years to research violations, and also underlines the importance of Forum 18’s
work as governments do not want their human rights violations to be publicly
documented. In this regard it is noticeable and unsurprising that governments
which seriously violate freedom of religion and belief also seriously violate
the interconnected freedom of expression.
Every time Forum 18 investigates
a violation we also attempt to question the state officials and organisations
concerned. It appears that, in every country we monitor, officials involved in
carrying out freedom of religion and belief violations know of and dislike Forum
18’s work. This may be judged from their angry or irritable responses when we
introduce ourselves, or their refusal to answer questions. Such officials will
also often put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 introduces itself. This puts
such officials on notice that their repressive actions – both against
individuals and communities – are being monitored.