On the 30th of June, the Interfaith Council for Wales held a conference on the topic of persecution motivated by religious beliefs. Titled “Freedom of Religion and Belief Conference. End of Persecution.”, the event had the support of the International Ministerial Conference and the Government of Wales. During the two-hour conference, different speakers, each coming from a distinct religious background, talked about their experiences when dealing with religious harassment. The aim of the conference was to bring some light to the existing discriminatory behaviours conducted by states and individuals, at a national level and around the World. The order of the speakers went as follows:
Agenda for the evening of 30th June
Introduction by Kate McColgan, Chair of the Interfaith Council for Wales.
Intervention of Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Minister for Social Justice in Wales.
Recorded message of Fiona Bruce, PM’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief
Abi Carter, member and Co-Chair of the organisation Remembering Srebrenica
Munis Abbas, from Bahai faith, explained his personal experience in a prison in Iraq
Recording of Arslan Hidayat, Program Manager for Campaign for Uyghur Muslims
Melody Odey, Vice Chair of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council
Rev Aled Edwards OBE, Chief Exec of Cytun Chair of Displaced People in Action
The evening started with the intervention of Kate McColgan talking about UK’s responsibility toward religious persecution and the current state of affairs on this topic. She underlined the general increase in social harassment towards certain ethnicities and religious beliefs, including atheists. Later, Jane Hutt took up the torch and reviewed the work that the Welsh Government has done to guarantee human rights, religious tolerance and inclusion. Similarly, Fiona Bruce, in her recording, pointed out some successes and challenges that the UK government has addressed and overcame.
Focusing on the topic of Srebrenica, and talking on behalf of the organisation Remembering Srebrenica, Abi Carter recalled the dangers of not taking action when needed and letting hatred and intolerance persist and rot democracies.
“Hatred and intolerance can flourish if left unchallenged […] We need to learn and understand the consequences of not taking action.”Abi Carter, member and Co-Chair of the organisation Remembering Srebrenica
She also referred to the Srebrenica Genocide as “an easily prevented genocide”. And that although the years passed, many families still grieving their loss, especially given that some high authorities in the country and international leaders still nowadays deny the facts. For this reason, and given the current “gaslighting suffered by the victims”, it is important that we continue holding weeks of remembrance and reflection of the past. (Srebrenica Genocide remembrance week is happening from the 4th of July until the 11th)
Following Fiona’s intervention, Munis Abbas, born in Iraq, explained his personal experience when in his youth he was imprisoned in Iraq due to his religious beliefs. Bahai, which is his faith, is an old religion that has its origins in the Middle East. Mr Munis explained that religious persecution of his people started to aggravate after 1963’s change of regime. As a matter of fact, he, jointly with 9 other men and 10 women, was imprisoned for practising an “illegal” faith. After spending more than 10 years in prison, and being one of the few Bahai survivors, he decided to flee to another country. He mentioned that despite the passing of the years, still now with the current regime in Iraq, his fellow believers face harassment and persecution both in the institutional and public arena.
After the two in-site interventions of Abi and Munis, we saw a recording of Arslan Hidayat, from Australia, denouncing the harsh living conditions that many Uyghurs have to endure in China. He denounced the current state of affairs as an “undeniable genocide”. Arslan defended that in the genocide of the Uyghurs community, not only the communist regime is an active participant, but also multinational companies and the international community are taking a stand when choosing to ignore the facts.
The next speaker at the conference was the Vice-Chair of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council, Melody Odey. She discussed the state of antisemitism in nowadays British society and made a call to take further action to eradicate violent extremism. Starting by educating our children on tolerance and respect for diversity, as she said:
“Middle ages tropes are still very active nowadays. UK’s history of antisemitism continues to be a reality. […] children play a vital role in the fight for tolerance and assuring a better world and […] I believe that teaching children can help to influence the opinions of others”.Melody Odey, Vice-Chair of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council
Just before the final discussion and the Q&A, Reverend Aled Edwards, shared his reflections on the topics discussed that evening. He also provided his own experience and knowledge on the topic of religious persecution, and encouraged the public to advocate against any retroactive change directed towards the 1998 Human Rights Act.
The entire event was finalised with an informal discussion accompanied by food and refreshments.
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Written by Clara Morer Andrades, ESC volunteer with WCIA