PRESS freedom and religious freedom are interlinked like conjoined twins: one cannot exist without the other, a German Protestant bishop, the Rt Revd Petra Bosse-Huber, said in Berlin last month.
Bishop Bosse-Huber was speaking at a joint German Protestant-Roman Catholic press conference in Berlin to present an ecumenical report on the state of freedom of religion of Christians worldwide.
She told reporters: “There is a close connection between the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of conscience and religion. We again and again see that if press freedom or human rights are threatened, religious freedom is also threatened.”
Bishop Bosse-Huber heads the Ecumenism and Work Abroad department of the German Protestant Church, which comprises 22 regional Lutheran, United, and Reformed Churches.
An ecumenical report on the situation for Christians worldwide, The Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief: Threats, restrictions, offences, is based on external sources published in the past two years, as well as eye-witness accounts from partner Churches in regions affected by religious persecution.
It illustrates how the right to freedom of religion continues to be under pressure worldwide, including in Europe. The church leaders said that the situation had sharply deteriorated since 2013, and their last report. “We now feel the effects in Europe,” the Archbishop of Bamberg, the Most Revd Ludwig Schick, representing the Roman Catholic German Bishop’s Conference, said.
The main theme of this report is apostasy, which is discussed by a Roman Catholic theologian, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, a former UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
Professor Bielefeldt called apostasy “a litmus test for the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief”. In many countries, changing one’s religion incurs strong repression, imprisonment, and other sanctions.
He based his argument on Article 9 of the European Human Rights Convention, and the 1966 multilateral treaty the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the UN General Assembly, in which Article 18 protects religious freedom.