BosNewsLife – Christian human rights and development groups in the Netherlands have urged the European Union to improve religious freedom in Bulgaria and Romania who hope to join the Union in 2007. Turkey , which recently began EU accession talks, was also criticized for religious rights abuses in a report seen by BosNewsLife Saturday, December 10.
Jubilee Campaign Nederland, which published the report “Religious Freedom in Bulgaria , Romania and Turkey : an assessment” with other Dutch groups, accused the EU of giving “no attention for freedom of religion during negotiations”, with especially Bulgaria and Romania .
“One of the conditions for entry into the EU is compliance with international human rights treaties. Jubilee Campaign Nederland is concerned about the fact that the topic of human rights– especially with regard to religious freedom–has been given little attention in the progress reports published by the European Commission,” at a time of religious rights violations, the group added.
In Bulgaria evangelical Christians have experienced harassment by local authorities and media in recent years, BosNewsLife established.
Jubilee Campaign Nederland said its investigations shows “that the right to religious freedom is still exposed to unlawful limitations” in both Bulgaria and Romania . “The enforcement of various religious laws and even the literal text of some legislation is not in line with existing human rights instruments and international treaties. Romania is even now trying to introduce religious legislation under an “emergency procedure” that is contrary to international agreements regarding the right to freedom of religion,” it noted.
Senior Pastor Samuel Caba, of the Romanian River of Revival Pentecost Church in the western city of Arad told BosNewsLife recently he had written “a letter to Europarlementariens,” following several protests against the proposed legislation. Under the government backed law all religious groups of less than 300 people are to be denied permission to call themselves ‘church’ or start a Religious Association as a legal umbrella for their work, according to Christian sources.
Caba stressed this could negatively impact “several thousands of religious groups” including evangelical Christian organizations and congregations. It “means they cannot promote their identity, having no right to purchase properties, to build churches or to have paid staff or ministers,” Pastor Caba said in the letter to Europarlementariers.
A group with over 300 but less than 22,000 members, or roughly 0.1 percent of Romania’s population, is allowed to register as a “Religious Association” but must be older than 12 years to be officially recognized by the state, according to the draft law.
Turkey , which also hopes to join the EU in a later stage, “has made progress in the area of religious liberty,” Jubilee Campaign Nederland said, but it expressed worries about “intensive supervision and control carried out by the government.” It explained that “limited space [was] granted to religious minorities in national legislation and in practice, making it difficult for members of religious minorities to practice their religion in peace.”
In addition “Turkish media play an important role in perpetuating religious intolerance in Turkish society,” the group added. Turkey s Protestant Christian minorities reportedly experienced harassment in recent weeks, from both security police and the judiciary, along with an attempt by vandals to set a church on fire.
In the town of Samsun , a minivan registered with the security police appeared to be filming members of the Agape House congregation as they entered and left, Christian news agency Compass Direct reported.
Elsewhere in Selcuk, the local prosecutors office summoned two members of the Ephesus Protestant Church to answer “bizarre accusations concocted by remote agitators,” the news agency claimed. In Antalya, vandals reportedly tried to set afire three windows of the St. Paul Cultural Center, the meeting place of the first new Christian congregation in Turkey to gain government recognition as an official association.
Jubilee Campaign Nederland said its report “calls on politicians to take the right to religious freedom seriously and once again to examine critically the new member states so as better to address violations of the right to religious freedom.” It stressed that “the EU must deliver a clear message that the legislation regulating religion in Bulgaria , Romania and Turkey must be brought into agreement with existing European and international human rights treaties and agreements as soon as possible.”