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EU: freedom of expression must not be limited by blasphemy laws

European Parliament

Commissioner Reding answered Parliamentary Questions on blasphemy laws within the European Union.

You can find the Parliamentary Question here.
Answer by Commissioner Reding:

The Commission refers to its answer to Written Questions E-001542/2008 and E-003725/2009. Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of our democratic societies, enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, according to Article 51 (1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, its provisions are addressed to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law. When enacting or maintaining national blasphemy laws the Member States concerned do not act in the course of implementation of EU law. In that matter it is thus for these Member States alone to ensure that their obligations regarding fundamental rights – as resulting from international agreements and from their internal legislation – are respected.
As regards the EU’s external policy, the Council expressed in its November 2009 conclusions its deep concern that in countries that have legislation on defamation of religions, such legislation has often been used to mistreat religious minorities and to limit freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. The Council furthermore underlined that no restrictions in the name of religion may be placed on those rights and that religion may never be used to justify or condone the restriction or violation of individual rights.

The European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics | 8th January 2013

Malta: defrocked priest cleared of rape because of an error in the charge sheet

Defrocked priest Godwin Scerri

A mistake that led to a defrocked priest being cleared of rape could have been corrected during proceedings, a judge ruled yesterday as he threw out an appeal by the Attorney General.

The mistake emerged when, in the beginning of last August, Magistrate Saviour Demicoli acquitted Godwin Scerri, 75, of raping a boy because the victim testified that it happened in Sta Venera in 1992 when the charge sheet said it had taken place in Marfa.

Mr Scerri was convicted of abusing boys about 20 years ago and was sentenced for five years in jail.

Another priest who was also defrocked, Carmel Pulis, 64, was sentenced to six years in jail also for abusing boys.

They both appealed the sentence and the case is expected to be heard next month.

Brother Joseph Bonnett, who had been facing identical child abuse charges, passed away in January, 2010, aged 63, during the proceedings.

During the appeal, lawyers Phillip Galea Farrugia and Elaine Rizzo, from the Attorney General’s Office, argued that the place where the crime was committed was not essential for guilt to be established.

Defence lawyer Giannella de Marco insisted that the prosecution had a time limit within which to make any changes to the charge sheet and once that did not happen and the time was up, the acquittal should stand.

Mr Justice David Scicluna hinged his argument on this point and said that the prosecution did in fact have time to correct the mistake, which it did not.

The Attorney General failed to correct the mistake while the case was being heard and the magistrate acquitted Mr Scerri because of that mistake, the judge said, dismissing the appeal.

In a statement a few days after the rape acquittal, the Attorney General had referred to claims that the charge sheet could have been corrected by his office when the case was still being heard and noted that the Attorney General did not lead the prosecution before the court.

The Attorney General had also argued that a correction in a late stage of the proceedings caused consequences and risks for the prosecution. The accused could demand to be notified once more of all the charges and also demand that evidence be heard all over again.

This, the Attorney General had noted, raised the risk of the case being declared time barred and all the case, and not just the incorrect charge, would collapse. Rehearing all the testimony also incurred the risk of delays, mistakes and discrepancies between witnesses and, thus, correcting the charge was not an easy solution and a late correction could well destroy the whole case, the Attorney General had said.

His office had appealed from the decision a few days later.

Times of Malta | Waylon Johnston | 19th April 2012

Austria: Protestant Church Said Eichmann Was Kind-Hearted

Records Reveal Warm Words for Holocaust Organizer

Protestant church officials in Austria and Germany lobbied the West German government to try to help Adolf Eichmann, one of the main organizers of the Holocaust, after his arrest by Israeli agents in 1960. One church leader described Eichmann as “fundamentally decent” and “kind-hearted.”

The German Protestant Church put in a good word for Adolf Eichmann, the chief logistics organizer of the Holocaust, after his arrest in Argentina by Israeli agents in 1960, SPIEGEL has learned.

The Superintendent of the Protestant Church for Upper Austria, Wilhelm Mensing-Braun, based in the Austrian city of Linz were Eichmann was born, wrote a letter to the foreign affairs department of the Evangelical Church in Germany in Frankfurt claiming that the mass murderer “had a fundamentally decent disposition,” was “kind-hearted,” and was characterized by “great helpfulness.”

At that time, Eichmann was about to be put on trial in Jerusalem for crimes against humanity.

Braun went on that he could not imagine that the former SS officer “would ever have been capable of cruelty or criminal acts.”

Eichmann’s family had enlisted Mensing-Braun’s help because they wanted Eichmann to be tried by an international court rather than an Israeli one.

Lobbying for Eichmann

Bishop Hermann Kunst, the representative of the Evangelical Church at the West German government, passed the letter on to the German foreign ministry with the note that the assessment was “at least interesting.”

That means that not only an Austrian church official, but a German one as well, effectively lobbied the German government on behalf of Eichmann.

The intervention didn’t work. Eichmann was sentenced to death in 1962 and hanged.

Before his arrest, Eichmann had been the most notorious of the Nazi war criminals still at large after World War II. He had been in charge of coordinating the deportation of Jews from Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe to the concentration camps, which made him directly responsible for the murder of six million Jews.

SPIEGEL | 22nd August 2011

Ireland: ‘Fatwa’ sheikh with links to Irish Muslims is refused visa

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi

A CONTROVERSIAL religious leader with close links to Ireland’s largest Muslim organisation has been banned from entering the country, the Irish Independent has learned.

The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service refused to approve an entry visa for Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who has defended suicide bombing and advocated the death penalty for homosexuals.

Sheikh al-Qaradawi (84) is head of the European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR), a private Islamic foundation whose headquarters is in the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Clonskeagh, Dublin.

Immigration officials are understood to have blocked his entry to the country after Mr Al-Qaradawi described suicide-bombing attacks on Israelis as “martyrdom in the name of God”.

The Irish Independent has learnt the elderly religious leader was denied a visa when he last tried to enter the country on ECFR business.

The Irish ban follows similar ones in the US and UK.

Mr Al-Qaradawi had his US visa revoked in 1999 and was also refused entry to the UK three years ago.

He now spends most of his time in Qatar, where he is a regular guest on satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera.

Despite Mr Al-Qaradawi’s controversial remarks, the ICCI, the largest Muslim organisation in the country, has refused to criticise him. Its chief executive, Dr Nooh al-Kaddo, confirmed to the Irish Independent that Mr Al-Qaradawi’s foundation had its headquarters at the ICCI. He described the sheikh as “widely respected” and a “learned scholar”.

“His views are representative of Islamic teachings and are not assumed to be a violation of same,” said Dr al-Kaddo.

Mr Al-Qaradawi is viewed as a complex character in the Muslim world. Although accused of anti-Semitism and homophobia, he has expressed some moderate views, condemning the 9/11 terror attacks and supporting Muslim integration in Western societies.

The Irish Independent has learnt that immigration officials have been concerned about him for some time and have blocked his entry to Ireland for the past three years.

A visa application made by Mr Al-Qaradawi in June 2008 was refused. Since then he has been “red flagged”. This means he would be arrested and immediately deported if he turned up at an Irish port of entry.

The decision is believed to have been made after consultation with other governments who imposed similar bans.

No official reason was given for the red flagging and it is unclear if other religious figures have been the subject of similar bans.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said it could not comment on specific cases.


When Mr Al-Qaradawi was banned from the UK in 2008, the Home Office there said he was refused entry because of fears his views “could foster inter-community violence”.

The ICCI’s defence of Mr Al-Qaradawi is likely to give rise to criticism in some quarters of the Irish Muslim community who have previously accused the body’s leadership of not being tough on extremism.

However, Dr Al-Kaddo said he rejected such criticism.

“The ICCI is aware that on occasion there are claims it does not take a sufficiently strong stance against global extremism,” he said.

“The ICCI has, on all occasions of extreme violence carried out against innocents, condemned it, especially when the perpetrators claim it to be in the name of Islam.”

Dr Al-Kaddo also disputed claims, made in leaked US embassy cables, that ICCI members celebrated the kidnapping of Irish-born aid worker Margaret Hassan in 2004.

“We cannot be held accountable by our community or others for the actions of a few who see matters in a different light,” he said.

“We are not aware that these celebrations took place. However, we do not condone it if they did. If we had knowledge of such celebrations on our premises we would have endeavoured to address the matter immediately and stopped such atrocious behaviour.”

Dr Al-Kaddo also denied other US embassy-cable claims that children of ICCI members did not turn up for school and were visibly sad following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, in 2006.

“We did not uncover any evidence that these events took place,” he said.

“However, we cannot guarantee that all families are exempt from harsh viewpoints and we cannot prevent such actions.

“But we can advise and preach with the hope of ascertaining a balanced view with those who listen.”

Irish Independent – Shane Phelan Investigations Editor – Monday August 08 2011


Reason must prevail in Norway’s agony

The double tragedy will inevitably heighten the debates on immigration and fundamentalism

Norway is accustomed to seeing itself lauded as the healthiest, wealthiest and most peaceful country in the world. On Friday, that changed. The horrific events of that day have left the country in mourning. Its enviable position at the top of so many league tables for wellbeing is now clouded by a tragedy of a kind that no parent, no relative, no friend should ever endure. We send our condolences to all those who have lost loved ones. The bombing in Oslo that left the city looking like a war zone was followed by the slaughter of dozens of young people, members of the Norwegian Labour youth league, on the island of Utoya, 15 miles west of the capital. They had been unable to find a hiding place from the man armed with a gun whom they believed was a helpful policeman.

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year-old suspected of both attacks, had accomplices. He is Norwegian born and well educated; he ran his own company cultivating vegetables and reportedly lived with his mother in an affluent area of Oslo. Until Friday, he must have appeared an average model Norwegian citizen, possibly even abiding by what is known in Scandinavia as Jante Law, the Nordic version of tall poppy syndrome. It was invented by Aksel Sandemose, a Danish-Norwegian author in the 1930s. It satirically describes how, since the collective and equality are so important in Scandinavian societies, there are rules to inhibit self-glorification. Rules that, it seems, Anders Behring Breivik has now broken in the most terrible manner.

Police chief Sveinung Sponheim, speaking on Friday, said that Breivik held strong political views, his internet postings suggesting that “he has some political traits directed towards the right and anti-Muslim views”.

Whatever the motivation for the carnage, prime minister Jens Stoltenberg understood the threat that such an attack poses to the fabric of Norwegian society, aimed at the values Norwegians cherish most – their openness, freedom of expression and their feeling of safety. “You will not destroy us,” Stoltenberg said. “You will not destroy our democracy, or our commitment to a better world… no one shall scare us out of being Norway.”

The circumstances surrounding the double tragedy is bound to trigger a debate as to the possible causes and what might have been done to prevent the bombing and deaths.

By a terrible irony, the young people who have lost their lives did so precisely because, in attending a summer camp, they wanted to be active and engaged citizens. It would be a huge disservice to them if the anti-immigrant rhetoric of which Anders Behring Breivik was apparently fond stokes greater antipathy to Norway’s immigrants. In times of chaos, it is all too easy to turn on “the other” in our midst.

Scandinavia in particular has developed a strain of political discourse that has given rise to parties that many would categorise as on the extreme right; some have won seats in parliament. The hard-right Swedish Democrats, for instance, entered parliament for the first time last September with 20 seats. Actions such as those that ripped into Norwegian society on Friday cannot be allowed to boost the support of those advocating division, discrimination and violence.

So why would Anders Behring Breivik choose to target young members of Norway’s Labour party? Could this be his warped protest against a government he saw as too lax on immigration?

Norway is a small country with a population of only 4.9million – around 10% of whom are immigrants, mainly from Poland, Sweden, Pakistan and Somalia. It is a rich welfare state with relatively low income inequality and the highest employment rate amongst immigrants in the OECD.

However, poverty and unemployment affect non-Norwegian residents most acutely. The right is small, but a poll this month suggests a growing scepticism towards immigration. According to the poll, half of all Norwegians want to shut their country’s borders to new immigrants and almost as many again do not believe integration efforts have gone well.

Immigration from the developing world began relatively late in Norway, in the 1990s, and some have found the transition from a largely homogenous to a more multi-cultural society difficult, Anders Behring Breivik amongst them. He describes himself on Facebook as a nationalist, a Christian and a conservative, strongly opposed to multiculturalism. His apparent dislike of “the other”, and the impact of immigration, may have provoked actions described by justice minister Knut Storberget as “shocking, bloody and cowardly”, but they are bound to be part of a conversation that Norway conducts with itself as it comes to terms with what has happened.

In that context, it is vital that the understandable sense of anger and loss doesn’t allow more extremist voices to dominate. In the same poll, for instance, 80% of Norwegians agreed that it was “positive” for children to go to school with other children from “various cultures” and around half of those questioned believe Norwegian businesses should employ more immigrants.

In Britain yesterday, furious polemical arguments were already taking place around the description of Anders Behring Breivik as a “Christian fundamentalist” – some justifiably wishing to dissociate fundamentalism from Christianity. It perhaps says something about prevalent attitudes in the west that there is very little similar imperative in debates to consider on occasion the merits of uncoupling Islam from fundamentalism.

Six hundred young people, aged 15 to 25 years old, had gathered on Utoya on Friday. By the evening, many on land and in the water were wounded or dead; powerless parents connected by phone were only able to hear their children’s screams – an unimaginable situation. Prime minister Stoltenberg told the country: “It’s important that we don’t allow ourselves to be scared. Because the purpose of that kind of violence is to create fear.” Shortly before, youth camp leader Eskil Pedersen said he was in “shock and sorrow”. He had been evacuated from the island after the police arrived. However, in spite of what he had just witnessed, he went on to use words that chimed with those of his prime minister. “We meet terror and violence with more democracy,” Pedersen said. “And we will continue to fight against intolerance.”

Even in grief and anger, the voice of reason must be heard.

The Observer | Sunday 24th July 2011


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