PRAY for BULGARIA: Past Month of Evangelical Protests Recap

December 10, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

  • Vote on the new legislation is now postponed for 2019
  • After 7 street protests since November, evangelicals call off protests for the holidays with one last stand on December 16, 2018
  • The situation in Bulgaria was reported to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe 
  • The case of Bulgaria was presented before the European Parliament (at the end of video below)
  • Attention to religious freedom in Bulgaria was called at the United Nations 70th Anniversary of the Human Rights Declaration (at the end of video below)

 

International Association FOR THE DEFENSE OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Association internationale POUR LA DÉFENSE DE LA LIBERTÉ RELIGIEUSE

UNITED NATIONS PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE IN GENEVA, NEW YORK & VIENNA In Participatory Status with the COUNCIL OF EUROPE in Strasbourg, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT in Strasbourg & Brussels, and with O.S.C.E.

Founder: Dr Jean NUSSBAUM. President: Mr. Mario BRITO

Honorary Committee Former Presidents:

  • Mrs Eleanor ROOSEVELT,
  • Dr Albert SCHWEITZER,
  • Paul Henry SPAAK,
  • René CASSIN,
  • Edgar FAURE,
  • Léopold Sédar SENGHOR,
  • Mrs Mary ROBINSON.

President of the Honorary Committee: H.E. Dr ADAMA DIENG, The Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser of the Secretary General of the UN on Prevention of Genocide.

Secretary General: Dr LIVIU OLTEANU | www.aidlr.org

UNITED NATIONS GENEVA – PALAIS DES NATIONS, ROOM XVII, ON 30 OF NOVEMBER 2018 OHCHR – ELEVEN ‘FORUM ON MINORITY ISSUES, ITEM 3

STATEMENT DELIVERED By DR. LIVIU OLTEANU, the Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty from Switzerland on ‘RELIGIOUS FREEDOM LAW’ OF BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT

Madame Chairperson

The UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the 70th Anniversary of UDHR, first of all I want to thank to the UN, for what is doing in favor of human rights, peace and minorities.

I’m Dr. Liviu Olteanu, the Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR) from Switzerland, founded in 1946, organization which received the special support of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first president of our Honorary Committee.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I want to underline from very beginning that we don’t defend a religion, but we defend the PRINCIPLE of freedom of religion or belief for all people.

We live in times with insecurity and crisis. According to Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General “around the world we see how ‘religion’ is being manipulated to justify incitement to violence”. Adama Dieng, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Genocide Prevention, stresses too: “religious minorities, migrants and refugees are often used by parties by fueling divisions”.

Recent years, we have witnessed the spread of violent extremism, which misuses religion to justify discrimination against religious minorities, or creating laws based on ‘national security’; sometimes and in some countries, these laws are used as pretext against religious minorities as Muslims, Jews, Christians, not respecting their dignity and rights.

In these days, Bulgarian Parliament prepares a law on religious freedom – and if the law will be voted – it can affect the religious minorities as: Evangelicals, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and others. I appreciate Bulgaria and Bulgarians – a nice country with wise and wonderful people.

I ask the UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities, the European Union, all European countries to use all diplomatic tools asking urgently Bulgaria, to adequate the prepared draft of ‘religious freedom law’ according the UDHR art 18, the ICCPR art 18, and the EU’ Guidelines on religious freedom.

I ask Bulgarian Parliament listening the voices of religious minorities, correcting the draft law, and giving up to all proposed restrictions on religious freedom.

I thank and I congratulate Bulgaria for the attention can give to the future ‘law of religious freedom’, in the way that future law can be according the international laws.

Excellencies,

I wish to Member States, to all of you, a blessed 2019 with peace, security, happiness and love for the Other, our neighbor !

Together, let us make the difference!

Thank you Madame Chairperson.

A Non-Governmental Organization accredited to the United Nations ECOSOC Committee, in Participatory Status with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament Headquarters: Schosshaldenstrasse 17, CH-3006 Berne, Switzerland; Phone +41 (0)76 316 07 29; Fax +41 (0)31 359 15 66 Offices : Rue Belliard 4-6, 8, 1040 Brussels, Belgium; Phone + 32 250 298 42

LATEST from BULGARIA: Freedom of religion is a fundamental right of all European Union citizens

December 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

  • Second vote on the proposed legislation was postponed for December, 2018 though current draft still infringes harsh restrictions on religious freedom
  • Protestant protests have continued for over a month in several cities on November 11, 18, 25, December 2 and now scheduled for December 9, 2018

SOURCE: Evangelical Focus – SOFIA, December 2018

Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) of the European Christian Political Movement have expressed their concern towards the proposed legislation titled “Bill for the Amendment and Supplement of the Law on Religions” currently progressing through the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s Parliament.

On November 27, the MEP’s said they were “uncertain about the proposed law that has the potential to significantly interfere with religious freedom in Bulgaria”. “In recent weeks, they have been made aware of a growing disquiet from a broad range of Christian communities in Bulgaria regarding the possible negative impact of this proposed law on Christian life”, said the movement of European politicians formed by committed Christians faith.

In their letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, the members of the ECPM wrote: “Freedom of religion and belief is considered a fundamental right of all EU citizens and a pillar of European democracy. We thoroughly believe that the wellbeing of Bulgarian people and development of Bulgarian society is your uttermost priority. Our experience from the nations we represent shows that respect for the principle of non-discrimination of Christians of every denomination always results in a harmonious and prosperous society.”

The organisation encourages the Bulgarian legislators to “take these arguments into account and consider necessary steps that will safeguard the rights of religious minorities living in Bulgaria”. The letter was sent to the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, with a plea for intervention in this matter too.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ADDRESSED BY ADF AND BULGARIAN CHURCHES

Two days later, On November 29, advocacy group ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches “filed a formal request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that he initiates a review of a proposed Bulgarian Law on Religious Denominations currently being debated in the Bulgarian Parliament”, the group said. “The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, would carry out the review”. Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International, added: “Nobody should be deprived of their fundamental right to religious freedom. As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the past, the government should not engage in ‘picking favourites’ when it comes to churches”.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN BULGARIA

On December 1, the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance (BEA) issued the following statement summarizing the situation at that point:

The Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance continues to express concern in regards of the Religious Denominations Act amendments planned by the Parliament. Earlier this year, two drafts were coined out and later merged into one proposed legislation. It contained a number of disconcerting restrictions, including impeding clergy training; strict filtering of international donations to churches; limitations on sermon content; restraining liturgy to designated buildings; obstructing non-Bulgarians’ ministry; membership of 300 for legal registration; allowing special privileges to religious groups over one percent of the population.

The lawmakers’ initiative triggered a massive public outcry. Every faith group in Bulgaria issued a statement of objection. The BEA and communities like Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists and Evangelical denominations mobilized church members for public protests on November 11, 18 and 25. These peaceful vigils were called “prayer rallies” and were held in a dozen Bulgarian towns. The third protest, the largest so far having some 3,000 people in Sofia, was covered by every media in the country. The Evangelical rallies were accompanied by statements of groups of academicians and public figures, as well as by several legal rights associations.

After a Parliamentary workgroup deliberated on Oct.14, some of the initial proposals were withdrawn. Two days later, a new version of the amendments was published on the Bulgarian Parliament’s webpage. In the new document, the lawmakers had conceded some initial provisions like restricting worship only to designated buildings, filtering international sponsorship, limiting foreigners’ ministry, disallowing religious schools. However, other problematic provisions remained.

The Nov.16 version of the draft increased tenfold the threshold for registering a religious group: at least 3,000 members! This is an act of discrimination against minority groups. Apparently, the lawmakers’ intention is to severely cut the number of legal faith groups in Bulgaria (currently, 183 registered religions in the country). Even though there was an oral commitment that this article would not be used with reverse force, there is another one according to which a legally recognized religion might lose its registration if it fails to abide by the new requirements. A prominent installment is the provision that a private real estate could automatically become property of the religion using it by a prescriptive right. Once again, clergymen and missionaries wishing to be involved in liturgy or worship will have to register with the state or else risk penalty.

Ten days after the first meeting of the workgroup, a second one was held on Nov.23. Representatives of various religious groups were invited. The lawmakers made more oral promises for concessions, including: dropping the requirement for registration to 200 members; rewriting the text so that it would not have a reverse strength; canceling the prohibition of worship outside designated buildings. Once again, no written record was provided of the group’s deliberations. No document was submitted into Parliament documenting these concessions. Instead, it was made clear that every preliminary version of the proposed legislation would enter parliamentary deliberations. This understanding leads us to be seriously concerned that some of the commitments taken during the workgroup discussions may in fact be ignored by MPs during the bill’s final voting.

The BEA also expresses anxiety regarding the procedure of how the new legislation was handled by Bulgarian lawmakers. Whereas the normal logic of new legal instalments would mean first a consultation with the religious groups affected, and only then submitting the bill for reading at Parliament, in this instance our decision makers adopted a reverse series of steps. First, two new drafts (with different agendas) were pushed in Parliament; then they were factitiously united into one bill with amendments; and only then was a work group of interested parties invited to the table to discuss provisions that were completely unacceptable, before submitting the document for 2nd reading by MPs.

By this point, BEA concerns have been shared and reiterated by a number of European and global religious and legal rights entities, including

  • the World Evangelical Alliance, the European Evangelical Alliance,
  • international denominational bodies (Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, and others),
  • the Conference of European Churches,
  • the USCIRF,
  • Advocates Europe,
  • Transform Europe Network,
  • Norway’s Stefanus Alliance and Helsinki Committee,
  • the European Christian Political Movement,
  • ADF International, etc.

On Tuesday, Nov.27, a week prior to its 17th general assembly in Brussels, the European Christian Political Movement sent a letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The address expressed uncertainty “about the proposed law that has the potential to significantly interfere with religious freedom in Bulgaria.” The letter was also sent to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, with a plea for intervention.

On Nov.29, ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches filed a request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to initiate a review of the proposed Religious Denominations Act. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, has been involved to carry out a review of the legislation.

The BEA appeals on the common sense of the Bulgarian authorities. The freedoms of belief, word, and meeting are fundamental rights. We remind our politicians that in a free and democratic society they are called to defend fundamental rights, rather than introduce arbitrary and dubiously motivated restrictions. By claiming these freedoms and upholding the dignity of the Bulgarian nation, we urge the Parliament to withdraw all proposed amendments to the Religious Denominations Act.

BULGARIAN PASTOR WILL SPEAK AT EU PARLIAMENT EVENT

This week, a board member of the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance will tak part in an event at  the European Parliament in connection to celebrating 70 years since the signing of “The Universal Declaration for Human Rights”, back on December 10, 1948. Reverend Daniel Topalski will attend the sessions planned for December 4-6 in the European Parliament. He will take part in a panel discussion on basic human rights, and he will use the opportunity to speak up about the situation in Bulgaria. Pastor Topalski is head of the Methodist Church in Bulgaria, and a representative of the BEA in the EEA.

ADF International: Churches in Bulgaria appeal to the Venice Commission

December 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News

SUMMARY

  • Bulgarian churches seek to challenge proposed restrictions on religious activity
  • Coalition requests review by Venice Commission of the Council of Europe

SOFIA (29 November 2018) – Today, ADF International and a coalition of Bulgarian churches filed a formal request with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that he initiates a review of a proposed Bulgarian Law on Religious Denominations currently being debated in the Bulgarian Parliament. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, would carry out the review. The proposed law requires newly registered denominations to have at least 3,000 members before they can gain legal rights, discriminating against smaller minority groups. Additionally, preachers, clergymen, and any foreigners wishing to participate in worship would have to register with the state or else risk penalties.

“Nobody should be persecuted or experience harassment because of their faith. The new law on religion in Bulgaria restricts religious minorities from assembling freely for worship, engaging in theological education, and receiving funds from outside Bulgaria. If adopted, it would stifle the missionary and spiritual activity of foreign citizens,” said Viktor Kostov, a Sofia based allied lawyer of ADF International representing the Bulgarian churches.

Fundamental threat to religious freedom in Bulgaria

“We have repeatedly requested that the MPs behind the bill amend or remove the worst aspects of the law without success. The proposed law represents a fundamental attack on freedom of religion in our country. As the Parliament has not acted to protect the rights of minority religions, we were left with no option but to seek a review of this law’s compatibility with international law. We have directly called on the National Assembly to adjourn further votes on this legislation until this has taken place,” said Mr. Kostov.

Request made for review by European advisory body

With the assistance of ADF International, a global human rights organization, the coalition of Bulgarian churches represented by Mr. Kostov made an appeal to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to refer the proposed law to the Venice Commission. The Commission is an advisory body on constitutional matters which is tasked with helping Member States bring their legal structures in line with European standards.

“The European Convention on Human Rights secures the right of the people of Bulgaria to worship freely without unjustified interference. This request calls for urgent attention to the proposed Bulgarian law,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

“This latest proposed law will interfere with the right of Bulgarian churches to conduct their business without burdensome regulation and restrictions. Nobody should be deprived of their fundamental right to religious freedom. As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the past, the government should not engage in ‘picking favourites’ when it comes to churches,” said Price.