World NGO Day: Standing up for those who stand up for others

27 February marks World NGO Day – a day to celebrate the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world. As a key part of civil society, NGOs help to drive positive change, protecting and promoting fundamental human rights, democracy, and rule of law.

CSW networks and collaborates with hundreds of NGOs around the world, empowering communities whose concerns may often be overlooked, amplifying these issues in international advocacy arenas, and whenever possible, providing a platform for them to address policy makers directly.

Even as the world celebrates the invaluable work of civil society, there are many countries, including several on which CSW focuses, where the work of NGOs is not celebrated, but is instead stifled or shut down by state or non-state actors.

India: Civil society suffocated

Perhaps one of the most restrictive environments for NGOs to operate in is in India. In recent years, the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other Hindu nationalist groups have increasingly attempted to label dissent as damaging to India’s national interests, arguing that those who speak up about human rights are ‘anti-nationals.’

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‘Smoke and mirrors’ in post-revolution Sudan: Lessons from Egypt

This time two years ago, Sudan was in the midst of an unprecedented revolution. Citizens of all ethnicities, religious beliefs and walks of life across the whole country had come together to call for justice, democracy, human rights, and an end to nearly three decades of repression under President Omar al Bashir. An Islamist army officer, al Bashir had seized power from an elected government in 1989, and had enjoyed support from the Muslim Brotherhood movement both inside and outside the country.

After several months of consistent demonstrations which saw the Sudanese people overcome a repressive and heavy-handed response from the government and its security forces, it seemed as though their vision for an inclusive Sudan was finally within touching distance. President al Bashir was arrested in April 2019, and in August a transitional government was appointed to oversee the country’s progression towards democracy, with the transition period scheduled to end in 2022.

While these welcome developments were praised by many as ushering in a new era for Sudan, progress since then has been frustratingly slow.

Human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), continue to occur on a regular basis, and there is still a need to ensure that justice is served for atrocity crimes committed under the previous regime, and indeed by members of the current government who are alleged to have been complicit in crackdowns on protesters, including the shocking massacre of demonstrators in Khartoum on 3 June 2019.

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An unfolding tragedy: The decline of religious diversity in the Middle East

By Lord Alton of Liverpool

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has seen a significant decline in religious diversity in recent years. While ancient Christian communities have often suffered, practically no religious group has been safe from this ongoing tragedy, with Ahmadis, Baha’is, Jews, Yazidis and Zoroastrians all affected, as well as both Shia and Sunni Muslims. For a host of reasons, in several countries in the region, minority communities who have deep roots going back several generations are being forced to leave their ancestral lands.

Iraq and Syria: Unending violence

Since 2003, the numbers of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq have both dropped significantly. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have emigrated because of terrorism and sectarian violence. They will never return.

In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) captured Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. Thousands of non-Sunni men, women and children were either killed or enslaved. One study, by the Public Library of Science, estimates that 3,100 Yazidis were killed in a matter of days following the 2014 attack. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians subsequently emigrated to neighbouring countries over the following years, with their number now estimated at 250,000, down from 2.5 million before the 2003 invasion.

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The relationship between blasphemy laws and religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa (Arabic)

العلاقة بين التطرف و بين قوانين ازدراء الأديان في منطقة الشرق الأوسط و شمال أفريقيا

تحتوي منطقة الشرق الأوسط و شمال أفريقيا على أكبر عدد من البلدان التي تحتوي قوانينها على شكل من أشكال قوانين التجديف أو ازدراء الأديان، حيث يقدر عدد البلدان التي مازالت تطبق هذه القوانين بشكل أو بآخر بتسع و ستين بلدا على مستوى العالم.

 و عموماً تعتبر العقوبات المطبقة في هذه الحالات من أكثر العقوبات شدة. ففي إيران مثلا يمكن أن يعاقب أي شخص يتم اتهامه بإهانة الرسول أو أي من أنبياء الإسلام بالإعدام وفقاً للمادة ٢٦٢ من قانون العقوبات. بينما في مصر فإن عقوبة “التحريض على الفرقة الدينية، إهانة أي ديانة سماوية أو أي مذهب تابع لأحدها، أو تهديد الوحدة الوطنية” قد تصل إلى خمس سنوات وفقاً للمادة الثامنة و التسعين من قانون العقوبات.

تعريف قوانين التجديف أو ازدراء الأديان:

قوانين التجديف هي مواد قانونية مهمتها تجريم أية أفعال أو أقوال أو كتابات أو أعمال فنية يتم اعتبارها مهينة لديانة أو معتقد ما أو لشخصيات مقدسة أو جارحة للمشاعر الدينية. تعاقب قوانين ازدراء الأديان أيضاً أية أفعال من شأنها تدنيس الأماكن الدينية و تعطيل العبادات و الطقوس الدينية.

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The relationship between blasphemy laws and religious extremism in the Middle East and North Africa

While an estimated 69 countries across the globe possess blasphemy laws of some kind, no geographical region has as many countries with such laws as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Furthermore, in many of these countries the penalties for committing the ‘crime’ of blasphemy are among the most severe.

In Iran, for example, anyone who insults the ‘Great Prophet … or any of the Great Prophets’ of Islam can be sentenced to death under Article 262 of the Penal Code. In Egypt, the crime of “inciting strife, ridiculing or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity” is punishable by up to five years imprisonment under Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.

What are blasphemy laws?

Blasphemy laws criminalise actions, often emitted in speech, writing or art deemed defamatory to a certain religion, offensive against religious figures or harmful to religious feelings. They also criminalise actions such as the disruption of religious services and the desecration of religious sites.

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