As China, Eritrea, Iran and more extend repression beyond their own borders, we must do better

In November last year, Ken McCallum, the Director General of the UK’s Security Service known as MI5, claimed that his agency had identified “at least ten” potential threats to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the Iranian regime. He added that the Iranian intelligence services “are prepared to take reckless action” against opponents in the West, including by luring individuals to Iran.

Coming at a time of intense civil unrest in Iran following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for incorrectly wearing her hijab, McCallum’s comments highlighted a concerning issue that applies to several of the countries CSW works on: repressive regimes are becoming increasingly unafraid to reach beyond their borders.

China

Perhaps one of the most obvious examples is China, a global superpower which regularly uses its economic and geopolitical influence to shape decisions in international fora such as the Human Rights Council, and routinely metes out sanctions against Western parliamentarians and others who openly condemn the widespread violations taking place in the country.

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Living in exile: “I am not less than any other human. I just want to be heard and seen”

Ali* is an Iranian Christian convert who was reported to the police after some of those close to him discovered he had changed his religion. In 2015 he fled to Cuba via Armenia because it was the easiest place for him to get a visa as an Iranian.

Ali hoped to be resettled quickly in an anglophone country because of his fluency in English. He has been recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR and is in the resettlement process, but this has been slowed significantly because of political issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. CSW spoke with Ali who told us of his experiences of living in exile.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m a young Iranian Christian citizen who has been stuck in long and exhausting limbo against my will for more than half a decade in Cuba. I’m a refugee, away from all the loved ones and abandoned in a foreign land with no sense of ‘belonging.’ I’m a university graduate with an impressive background in sales and business management that has been achieved with dedication and hard work at international companies in my country.

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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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