AJC's Hanukkah Campaign in Support of Religious Freedom Around the World
In the spirit of Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday that celebrates the restoration of Jewish religious freedom in ancient Israel, AJC is highlighting eight religious communities under threat across the globe, from Yazidis in Iraq to Baha’is in Iran and from Jews in Europe to Greek Orthodox Christians in Turkey.
Join us in shining a light on the areas of the world where darkness remains and the freedoms of religious communities are suppressed. Every day, AJC works to promote religious liberty and end the oppression of religious minorities, wherever they may be.
Please share this campaign with your friends and family to show your support for these communities and for religious freedom around the world.
In August 2014, tens of thousands of Yazidis, a small religious minority primarily found in Iraq and some parts of Syria, became the targets of horrific attacks leading them to seek refuge in the mountains near their homes in Sinjar. The atrocities suffered by the Yazidis, which have been termed genocide by key UN officials and fact-finding missions as well as by some governments and key stakeholders, included 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. While some women and girls have managed to escape or obtain their release, thousands remain enslaved by ISIS fighters. Thousands of other minorities – Christians and Sabaean-Mandaeans, as well as Shabak, Turkmen, and Kaka’i people – have also fled after ISIS’s targeted attacks.
The AJC Berlin Ramer Institute has played a critical role in advocating additional protection for Yazidi survivors in Germany, partnering with Yazidi activists Nadia Murad—recently named the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate—and Duezen Tekkal. AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, the AJC-convened Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, and other AJC offices and bodies have worked to spread awareness of the Yazidi genocide and demand the release of thousands still unaccounted for, accountability for the crimes committed against them, and redress for the victims.
- Ecumenical Patriarch and Greek Orthodox Christians in Turkey
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 fewer than 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians remain in Turkey today.
AJC has joined organizations representing other faith groups around the world in speaking out in support of Greek Orthodox Christians who have had to face one Turkish governmental obstacle after another. AJC recently co-sponsored a briefing on international religious freedom focusing on the discrimination against the Greek Orthodox Christians in Turkey and the failure to reopen Halki seminary, one of the first events held by the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance (a caucus launched by AJC and the Hellenic American Leadership Council).
- 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.
AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights has focused on keeping a spotlight on human rights in North Korea at the United Nations, within both the General Assembly and the Security Council, drawing the world’s attention to North Koreas most vulnerable populations and those suffering human rights abuses, including the denial of religious freedom.
- Baha’is in Iran
According to Iranian law, members of the Baha’i faith community may be killed with impunity. Discrimination against Baha’is has worsened under President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure – at least 77 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 human rights in Iran 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.
AJC, through its Jacob Blaustein Institute, has advocated for support of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Iran’s rampant human rights abuses against the Baha’i and other minorities and urged the continuation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur who monitors developments in the country. AJC has signed letters calling on Congress to act and raise its voice in condemnation of violations of religious freedom in Iran and has made appeals for the release of religious prisoners.
- Coptic Christians in Egypt
While the practice of Christianity in Egypt is permitted by law, Coptic Orthodox Christians are often the targets of violent attacks at the hands of private individuals from which the government fails to adequately protect them and for which perpetrators are rarely punished. In addition to the violence, Copts also face official discrimination in the form of limits on building and maintaining churches.
AJC uses social media to raise awareness of the discrimination suffered by Coptic Christians in Egypt and has routinely made appeals for investigations into incidents of violence against Copts in Egypt, pressing Egyptian authority to prosecute those responsible.
In August 2017, the Burmese military began a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing against the long-persecuted community of Rohingya living in Myanmar’s (Burma) Rakhine State. Reports indicate that the military and police forces burned houses and villages to the ground, brutally murdered thousands, committed acts of sexual violence against women and girls, and committed other atrocities causing more than 700,000 Rohingya men, women, and children to flee to severely overcrowded refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh.
AJC, through its Jacob Blaustein Institute, has been actively engaged on behalf of the Rohingya, working with human rights and Jewish NGO partners to advocate for the United Nations and the United States government to take action to address the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya and introduce sanctions against those perpetrating the abuses.
- Religious minority groups in Pakistan
While Pakistan’s government claims to support religious freedom, members of minority religious communities in Pakistan are at particular risk of prosecution under the country’s “blasphemy” laws. The blasphemy laws are vaguely-worded and vulnerable to abuse by private parties seeking to harass Christians, Hindus, Ahmadiyyah Muslims (determined to be non-Muslims by a constitutional amendment), and others through false accusations, as well as by government officials seeking to punish those who publicly or privately may be accused of criticizing Islam. Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic who was imprisoned and sentenced to death in 2010 for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law during a dispute with Muslim coworkers, was one of the most famous victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy law until she was acquitted in late October 2018.
AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute has made appeals on behalf of Bibi and other prisoners convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan and elsewhere. AJC has also supported UN initiatives encouraging states to repeal their blasphemy laws, which are inconsistent with the rights to freedom of religion and expression.
- 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. A recent CNN poll revealed that more than 25% of Europeans hold anti-Semitic views.
With offices in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Rome, and Warsaw, AJC combats all forms of anti-Semitism throughout Europe. Working with our partners in local Jewish communities and with other religious and ethnic groups, we have developed extensive relationships with European leaders and decisionmakers, successfully advocating for the appointment of a European Union Coordinator for Combating Anti-Semitism and pushing for all European countries to adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism.