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Fate of Assyrian Christians Abducted by Islamic State Hangs in the Balance






FOREF releases names of victims, "targeted because of their faith"

Vienna, 11.06.2015 (FOREF) – The Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF) today published the names of 207 Assyrian Christians still in captivity after their abduction by Islamic State terrorists in February, and expressed deep concern for the safety of the hostages.

“The Islamic State has demanded an unreasonable ransom, providing an excuse not to negotiate further,” according to Dr. Aaron Rhodes, president of FOREF. “As a result, the victims, who have been targeted because of their faith, are left in a state of limbo and in danger of being slaughtered.”

Over 233 Assyrians were seized on 23 February 2015, from the villages of Tal-Hormez, Tal Gwran, Qaber-Shameh, Tal-Fieda, Tal-Shameran, and Tal-Jazera in Al-Hasaka Province. Following intervention by Arab tribesmen from south of the Alkhabour River in Al-Hasaka Province, the IS demanded about $100,000 for each kidnapped Christian, or about $23,000,000 total.

Of the 207 Assyrians in captivity, 83 are men, 87 are women and 37 are children. They are held in the community of Al-Shadade, Al-Hakasa Province. The IS has set several of the hostages free. The Assyrian Christian community has suffered massive displacement as a result of the IS terror. Thirty-four (34) villages, where Assyrians have lived since Biblical times, have been evacuated, and reports from local residents suggest some of their inhabitants have been killed. According to information received by FOREF, over 1380 families have been displaced.

FOREF obtained the names of the hostages from local sources with the assistance of the Ashour Foundation for Relief and Development, which provides humanitarian assistance to victims of violence and displacement in Syria.

See list of names of the Assyrian Abductees in the Province Al-Hasaka, Syria (2015) here.

For more information:

Aaron Rhodes, FOREF president, +49-170-323-8314 (English)
Damas Isho, Ashour Foundation for Relief and Development, +49-152-226-97457 (German, Arabic)


Last Updated on Monday, 15 June 2015 02:56
Austria officially recognizes Unification Church after decades of discrimination
The Austrian branch of the Unification Church (UC) attained officially recognition by the country's Office for Religious Affairs on June 15. After roughly 40 years of essentially operating underground, the church now has the legal status as a "confessional community" in Austria's tiered system of religious recognition.
The church says it welcomes this development since it can now operate freely. However, the recognition is "without privileges” granted to other larger churches.  The UC is only the eighth confessional community to be officially registered in Austria. Constitutional lawyer Prof. Christian Bruenner praised the government's action as “a sign of a pluralistic state under the rule of law.''
The UC has been active in Austria since May 1965. Middle class young people  were particularly were attracted to the community. In January 1974 the legal status of the growing community was suspended by the Security Agency of Vienna, allegedly due to “technical reasons.” However, despite both government and public discrimination, the young movement continued to thrive underground. Among other achievements, the UC managed to send twenty Austrian missionaries into countries of the Communist Eastern bloc during the Cold War.
"It has been a long road. Finally our movement has been rehabilitated through the decision of the Office for Religious Affairs,” said Peter Zoehrer, president of the UC of Austria.
The current head of the international religious movement is Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, the wife of the departed founder. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European UC she visited Vienna, Austria’s capital city, on  May 10. The following day Dr. Moon spoke in the Vienna International Centre at the United Nations’ 70th anniversary on the importance of resolving the tensions on the Korean peninsula.
ICRF president Dan Fefferman congratulated the UC of Austria for gaining official registration. "We are extremely happy to hear this news," he said. "However, we remain mindful that the government of Austria continues to discriminate against other minority religious groups and shows unfair favoritism to religions it considers beneficial."


Woman Accused of Apostasy In Sudan Escapes to Italy
by Tina Ramirez
Pope meets accused woman from Sudan
Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, the young mother sentenced to death by a Sudanese court for her refusal to renounce her Christian faith, traveled to Italy early July 24 with her husband Daniel Wani, their 20-month old son, Martin, and four-week old daughter, Maya, who was delivered in prison. [The Vatican announced that Pope Francis met the persecuted mother and her family later the same day.] They were reported to be living in a government safe house in Italy until they obtain the proper travel documents to come to the United States.

According to Meriam's lawyer, Al-Sharief Ali, "The Italians had the greatest influence on Sudan and were able to secure her release."  Deputy Foreign Minister for Italy, Lapo Pistelli, flew to Sudan to negotiate the release and accompanied Meriam and her family to safety on July 24th. According to Ramirez, "Italy has been a recurring safe-haven for apostates and others seeking religious freedom over the years." 
United Nations Warns Japan on Religious Freedom
United Nations Human Rights CommissionThe UN Human Rights Committee has formally reminded Japan of its responsibility to uphold religious freedom in the wake of reports that the government consistently turns a blind eye to forced de-conversion of adherents of minority faiths. "The State party [Japan] should take effective measures to guarantee the right of every person not to be subject to coercion which would impair his or her freedom to  have or to adopt a religion or belief," the committee said. Human Rights Without Frontiers, which has taken a leading role in informing the UN on this issue, issued the following report:

HRWF (25.07.2014) - On 15-16 July, Japan's human rights record was reviewed in the framework of the 111th session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. During Japan's sixth periodic review, the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right not to be coerced to change religion has been raised in detailed reports provided to the Committee by Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels) and by the Japanese Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Religious De-Conversion. 

During the review, the German expert of the Committee, Ms. Seibert-Fohr, raised the issue of abductions and so-called "deprogramming" as she said. She explained that the Committee came to know about cases of abductions and forced religious de-conversions of members of the Unification Church and Jehovah's Witnesses, that adults were abducted and confined by their families for up to six months or more, and that there was a lack of investigation and police search, under the justification that they were "with their families". She explained that civil cases were brought but no injunction had been pronounced to her knowledge. She asked the Japanese government which steps it was going to take to remedy this situation.
European Court of Human Rights Errs on French Ban Against Muslim Veils PDF Print E-mail

By Aaron Rhodes and Peter Zoehrer

By upholding a French ban on wearing full-face veils, a common Muslim practice, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has failed to protect the religious freedom of Islamic women who choose the veil as an expression of their faith.


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