Freedom of Religion or Belief Prisoners List: World Report 2012

Thousands of believers of all faiths are in prison: 

A report of Human Rights Without Frontiers targets 18 countries  

Thousands of believers of all faiths – Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, Hare Krishna devotees, Zoroastrians and even an atheist – were arrested, detained, kept in custody or sentenced to prison terms of various durations in 2012, according to a 90-page report published just before Easter by the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers International (HRWF Int’l). 

Throughout 2012, HRWF Int’l has compiled a list of prisoners that have been detained or jailed on grounds that constitute an infringement of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FORB). The cases listed in this report relate incidents of violations on the basis of: (1) freedom to change religion or belief, (2) freedom of expression, (3) freedom of association, (4) freedom of worship and assembly, or (5) in respect to specific obligations imposed by the state on believers in such a way as to conflict with their conscience. 

In this report, HRWF Int’l defines FORB prisoners as persons who have been arrested and detained for reasons primarily connected to their faith as practised individually or in community.

HRWF Int’l has identified eighteen countries with such FORB prisoners in 2012: Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Nagorno-Karabakh, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

This Prisoners’ List which comprises 316 names filed country by country and by religious affiliation has been elaborated on the basis of available information collected from a wide range of public and private sources: birth year or age, family status, place of residence, date and place of arrest, official charges, statement of the defendant, place of detention, first and final court decision, article of the criminal/civil/administrative code used and other relevant information. 

Eritrea is on top of the list but it should arguably concede its first place ranking to North Korea if access to information about possible FORB prisoners in North Korea was not almost inexistent. In practice, there is no religious freedom in this country, yet no data is made available about arrests, detention and imprisonment of North Koreans on the ground of freedom of religion or belief.

Also, conscientious objectors to military service are often forgotten in reports on religious freedom and as prisoners of conscience. This report intends to correct this obersight by highlighting the situation of Jehovah’as Witnesses in two countries: South Korea and Armenia

Each year the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses that are imprisoned in South Korea for their conscientious objection to military service varies between 700 and 800. Since 1950, the government has sentenced 17,107 Jehovah’s Witness objectors, making a combined total of 32,413 years of imprisonment. However, this problem could be resolved by introducing some form of alternative civilian service, an action that South Korean authorities have refused to take, despite repeated condemnations by the United Nations. Armenia, with over 30 FORB prisoners, is in a similar position in respect to military conscription.  

The main purpose of the Prisoners’ List is to stimulate advocacy in favour of the release of FORB prisoners. The List will be updated throughout 2013.