COI Gazette – 24th March 2017

Waterford Cathedral’s ‘Joy Bells’ trigger bell-ringing around the world in solidarity with immigrants

Gaz 24 Mar

A simple and symbolic action, the ringing of bells, replicated across the world to show solidarity with immigrants and challenge racism and xenophobia – that was the essence and aim of the ‘Joy Bells’ event held in Waterford last Sunday.

An initiative developed by the Very Revd Maria Jansson, Dean of Waterford, it was supported by former President Mary McAleese.

Mrs McAleese addressed the packed Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford city during the Holy Communion service and at 11.00am launched the world- wide bell peal from the belfry.

The idea for the peal sprang from awareness of an anti- fascism action in the Swedish city of Vasteras in 2014, where villagers had drowned out hatred-filled, racist speeches by ringing the Cathedral bells.




The Oslo-based Forum 18 news service is so named after Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the similar Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and works for the freedom of religion or belief for all on the basis of these articles.

Last year (Gazette, 19th August), we featured a report by Victoria Arnold of Forum 18, which indicated that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had signed into law legislation on so-called “missionary activity”, further restricting the public expression of freedom of religion and belief, including in the media and online.

The amendment – which had been rapidly introduced – caused widespread protests, but was signed on 6th July and published on the presidential website the following day, coming into force on 20th July.

Ms Arnold has now issued an update, indicating that prosecutions continue under “missionary activity” restrictions, and have led to the first known deportation of a foreigner, Indian Protestant pastor Victor-Immanuel Mani, separating him from his Russian wife and young child. Pastor Mani is the first known case of a foreigner being deported under Administrative Code Article 5.26, Part 5 (“Foreigners conducting missionary activity”), the report indicates, adding that he is planning to appeal further, and that his lawyers argue that the deportation order is in contradiction of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that “expulsion from the country, which is home to members of [the defendant’s] family, may violate the right to respect for family life”.

Ms Arnold also reports that, separately, appeals have been made against two court orders to destroy Bibles, the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, and other texts, adding: “Judges in at least three cases have ordered confiscated religious literature to be destroyed, although one of these rulings was later overturned. This occurred despite courts having no legal right to do this if the confiscated materials have not previously been formally legally classified as ‘extremist’, pornographic, or drugs-related. Also, religious organisations are receiving large fines for not displaying their ‘official full names’ on publications, on websites, or on buildings.”

Behind all of this most disturbing anti-religious activity by the Russian state lies real uncertainty about the precise meaning of the legislation which Mr Putin signed into force, Ms Arnold pointing out that both “confusion and inconsistency” have marked decisions on whether to prosecute individuals and religious organisations for sharing beliefs, and that this situation has obtained from the day the restrictions came into force.

More than this, Ms Arnold has reported how a 2015 amendment to the Religion Law “for the first time and against international human rights law required all unregistered religious groups to notify the authorities of their existence and activities”. She pointed out that this includes providing names and addresses of members’ addresses and the addresses at which any meeting takes place, and has referred to a draft law making failure to do this “a specific offence subject to fines” having been accepted for a first reading in the State Duma, although with no date as yet having been announced for this.

The world’s religions, not least the Christian Churches, must be very grateful indeed for the painstaking work of Forum 18 on the issue of religious freedom and in particular for Ms Arnold’s work highlighting an entirely unacceptable situation in Russia. If the free world is hoping for a new and better relationship with Russia there can hardly be real improvement until people’s religious freedom is properly upheld by President Putin and his fellow legislators.


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