Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is an 8-day holiday celebrating religious freedom. On each night, candles are lit. JBI encourages concerned persons also to mark eight nights of human rights, shining a light on the areas of the world where darkness remains, and the freedoms of many religious communities are suppressed. Here are eight examples to reflect upon, one for each night:
- Yazidis. Last year the world watched in horror as tens of thousands of Yazidis sought refuge in Iraqi mountains near their homes in Sinjar. New reports reveal mass killings and public executions; abductions, rape, and enslavement of women and young girls, with girls and women being openly sold at slave markets; and forced recruitment of children as young as 12. Thousands of Christians and Sabaean-Mandaeans, as well as Shabak, Turkmen, and Kaka’i people have also fled after ISIS’s targeted attacks. In all, the UN estimates 15,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and more than one million have been displaced.
- Jews in Europe. Lingering prejudices and anti-Semitic attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Copenhagen have contributed to feelings of insecurity among European Jews. Synagogues throughout the continent have closed due to heightened threat levels, and the Chief Rabbi of Brussels has speculated that there may be no future for Jews in Europe. Fear of recent increases in anti-Semitism has led nearly one third of European Jews to consider leaving their home country because they do not feel protected.
- Catholics in China. China has repeatedly been cited by the US government as a country with systematic repression of religious freedom. Practicing any faith outside the State’s five approved religions is strictly prohibited and punishable with prison sentences. Unrecognized Catholics are among the numerous groups that have suffered many human rights abuses and limitations on their ability to freely practice their religion. Unrecognized Catholic priests and bishops have been arrested and disappeared, and churches have been destroyed.
- Baha’is in Iran. According to Iranian law, Baha’is may be killed with impunity. Discrimination against Baha’is has worsened under President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure – 74 members of the Baha’i faith are currently unjustly imprisoned solely for their religious beliefs. Iran is one of the world’s most egregious human rights violators. The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, has confirmed that Iran continues to persecute members of Baha’i and other religious and ethnic minority groups and to commit other serious rights violations.
- Central African Republic. A quarter of the country’s population has been displaced and an estimated 6,000 people have been killed. Intergroup violence has continued between the Seleka, a coalition of armed paramilitary Muslim groups that initially staged a coup against the government, and “anti-balaka” coalitions of Christian fighters who fought back. The UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry found gross human rights abuses amounting to crimes against humanity on each side. Through his visit, Pope Francis attempted to advance peace and end this state of affairs. However, serious tensions remain.
- Ecumenical Patriarch and Greek Orthodox Christians in Tukey. Turkey maintains several prohibitive laws that have led to the severe decline of the presence of Greek Orthodox Christians in Turkey. The government has yet to allow the patriarchate’s main school of theology in Halki to reopen since Turkey’s highest court closed it in 1971. It is estimated that as of 2013, fewer than 2,000 Greek Orthodox remain in Turkey.
- North Koreans. It has been authoritatively documented in recent years that North Koreans suffer atrocious abuses under the current government, including egregious violations of freedom of religion. The UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry found that “countless numbers of persons in the DPRK who attempt to practice their religious beliefs have been severely punished, even unto death,” causing the population of religious adherents in the country to drop from about 24% of the population in 1950 to only 0.16% in 2002.
- Jews in the Arab World. The ability for Jews to live peacefully and safely in the Arab world is uncertain. In Egypt, for example, the miniscule Jewish community is subjected to anti-Semitic sentiment spread by state and privately owned media. In addition, the Alexandria Administrative Court decided to permanently ban the Jewish Abu Hassira pilgrimage festival. Anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence has also increased in Yemen despite its diminished Jewish population numbering less than 100.
With these 8 examples, it is clear that great strides still must be taken to achieve freedom of religion throughout the world. Join JBI in speaking out and calling for an end to repression and accountability for those responsible for discrimination, violence, and abuse.