Calls for religious freedom to be upheld during coronavirus pandemic

Published 23 April 2020  |  
Unsplash/Martin Sanchez

The coronavirus pandemic must not be used as a pretext for infringing on religious freedom and other human rights, an advocacy group has said.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is urging world leaders to adhere to the rule of law and protect fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious liberties, as they respond to Covid-19.

The campaign group, which supports persecuted Christians, is concerned that legitimate restrictions on assembly will remain in place even once the pandemic has started to recede.

Emergency powers, CSW said, should be "limited in duration, proportionate to the threat and applied without discrimination", particularly where such measures affect large gatherings.

"In these exceptional circumstances, saving lives will depend on rapid and effective government interventions and the temporary imposition of limitations on certain rights, including on the freedoms of religion or belief, assembly and association," CSW said in a statement.

"While recognising and supporting legitimate limitations on public health grounds, it is also important to ensure these essential derogations are applied in a non-discriminatory manner; that they remain in place for no longer than the minimum period necessary to contain the spread of the virus, and that they are not instrumentalised to undermine the future enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms."

The statement goes on to raise concern for religious groups that already experience discrimination.

"In the current climate religious communities that regularly experience violations may be targeted further, including with accusations of being 'carriers' of the virus," the statement reads.

It further calls on country leaders not to use Covid-19 as an excuse to consolidate their power or crackdown on human rights defenders.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound effect on every nation. While fully understanding the need for states to adopt extraordinary measures that may limit certain rights and freedoms, we nevertheless urge them to ensure transparency and adhere to the rule of law.

"Unfortunately this pandemic also poses a specific threat to marginalised religious communities, which may now be at even greater risk.

"We therefore call for greater vigilance on the part of the international community to ensure that faith groups that ordinarily experience violations are afforded the same protections as others, and that any measures undertaken to combat the spread of Covid-19 are not exploited by authoritarian governments to consolidate power by curtailing fundamental rights and freedoms indefinitely."

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