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Statement by authorities threatens judicial action against those who break the Fast

05/31/18 Washington, DC  – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Interior Ministry of Iraq’s Central Government issued a statement May 24, 2018 saying that it was “taking legal measures against people publicly breaking their Fast (during the day time) and referring them to the judiciary.” 

A local news source reports that the maximum jail sentence for breaking the Ramadan Fast is six months in prison. Qasim al-Araji, head of the Interior Ministry, is also a senior member of the Badr Organization, a Shi’ite militia group reliant on Iranian support. The Organization’s violent reputation includes a long history of aggravating religious conflicts.

Iraq’s Christians are targeted during periods of religious tensions, and Ramadan is an especially sensitive time. Many Christians report experiencing social harassment and even aggression during Ramadan. A Christian living in Erbil’s Ankawa neighborhood, notes how he “remembers it was fine to eat publicly in Ankawa years ago because it is Christian area. Not anymore. Actually, it was not allowed for Muslims to come and have a house in Ankawa, but now it is a preferable area for Muslims and there are a lot of Muslims who have connections and they are getting permissions.”

Another Christian recalls how “two years ago in Ankawa, someone was about to hit me with a big wrench because I was drinking water publicly… I believe so many others (have) experienced the same thing.”

Fasting regulations can lead to business closures and exacerbate the struggle of Christian IDPs seeking to meet basic needs. For example, one Christian from Qaraqosh recalls how during displacement “Ramadan is something we liked and hated at the same time. We liked the TV program because it is so special, but… all the restaurants closed all the day, people were hungry and angry.”

A priest from Baghdad shared with ICC: “We respect Ramadan very much because it is the holy month of our brothers and sisters in the country and we want to promote this belief (of respect).”

“I think if we could learn how to respect each other, the importance of eating in public will be neglected because the Muslims will respect the freedom of Christians and the Christians will feel comfortable to sacrifice sometimes,” the priest continued. “I think the Ministry of Interior’s statement is not as important as the importance of educating the police officers at all levels how to manage a country.” 

ICC Regional Manager Claire Evans said, “Ramadan is an extremely sensitive time for Christians in the Middle East. Most will change their daily lifestyle and publicly fast alongside their Muslim neighbors in order to protect their security. It is disappointing that Iraq’s government would choose to reinforce religiously motivated social hostilities against Christians. Less than a year has passed since the military defeat of ISIS. It is precisely because Christians are not given religious freedom protections and lack guarantees of security that so many have left Iraq. The government must take the lead in protecting the right of Christians to safely and freely exercise their faith.” 

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]