Religious Leaders Condemn Iceland’s Proposal to Ban Male Circumcision

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Religious groups are criticizing legislation being considered in Iceland that would ban male circumcision for non-medical reasons.

A Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony is performed. Photo courtesy of Anton Podgaiko.

Iceland’s Parliament is debating legislation that would impose a six-year prison term for circumcisions performed for non-medical reasons.

The legislation was proposed in response to the country’s outlaw on female genital mutilation in 2005. It would outlaw circumcision on children and establish an age of consent after-which an individual could undergo the procedure.

Supporters of the legislation believe that children should be old enough to give informed consent before undergoing the procedure. They believe that the practice infringes on the rights of individuals who are not yet capable to make the decision on their own. They also point to potential risks of the procedure, which include bleeding and infection.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief,” said Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a lawmaker who proposed the new legislation. “Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come about the right to believe.”

Jewish and Muslim religious leaders are condemning the proposal as an attack on religious freedom.

Circumcision is a procedure where the foreskin is removed from the penis. It is usually performed shortly after birth or during childhood. Jews and Muslims perform circumcisions as religious rituals to mark a child’s relationship with God.

“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatize certain religious communities,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the Catholic Church in the European Union.

“It’s… part of our faith,”said Imam Ahmad Seddeeq at the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland. “It’s something that touches our religion and I believe that this is… a contravention [of] religious freedom.”

The practice is not limited to religious reasons and is commonly practiced throughout the world across all ethnicities. An estimate by the World Health Organization in 2009 found that one in three men in the world are circumcised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a review in 2012, finding that the benefits of circumcision outweigh any risks associated with the procedure and issuing the following statement: “The health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life.”

However, the group also stated that the benefits were not enough to recommend universal circumcision.

Circumcision is currently legal throughout Europe.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Iceland’s Mooted Circumcision Ban Sparks Religious Outrage – 19 February 2018

CNN – Iceland’s Proposed Ban on Male Circumcisions Upsets Jews, Muslims – 20 February 2018

Huffington Post – Iceland’s Proposed Ban on Male Circumcision Alarms Religious Leaders – 19 February 2018

Newsweek – Iceland Angers Jewish and Muslim Leaders Over Proposal to Ban Infant Male Circumcision – 19 February 2018

USA Today – Iceland Could Become First Country to Ban Male Circumcision – 19 February 2018

Russian blogger convicted for inciting religious hatred

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Ruslan Sokolovsky awaits sentencing in a Russian court. Image courtesy of Reuters.

MOSCOW, Russia – Russian blogger Ruslan Sokolovsky was convicted by a Russian criminal court on May 11 for insulting religious beliefs and inciting hatred. These actions are criminal offenses under Russian criminal codes.

The conviction comes after nearly a year of criminal proceedings after his arrest. Last August, Sokolovsky entered an Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg while playing the augmented reality game Pokémon Go on his smartphone. He had posted a video of himself playing the game on YouTube. At the end of the video, he said what many perceived to be an anti-religious insult. Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel included other videos that were seen as being against the Russian Orthodox Church.

After searching his apartment in September, authorities arrested Sokolovsky. They initiated another charge against him in January after months of house arrest. Sokolovsky had pled not guilty to any of the charges.

Religion has not always been a concern in Russia. Before the past few years, Russia was officially an atheistic country with no state religion. The Kremlin is now known to use religion as a means of pushing a state agenda. This year the highest court in the country banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, claiming they are an extremist group. In 2012, two members of the anti-Putin band Pussy Riot were charged with inciting religious hatred, the same conviction that Sokolovsky faces.

“Insult” was added as a crime to the criminal code of Russia after the members of Pussy Riot were arrested. According to Human Rights Watch, the crime of insult is defined as “a public action expressing clear disrespect for society and committed in order to insult the religious feelings of believers”. Critics see these laws as restrictions on freedom of expression.

Sokolovsky will face a suspended jail sentence of 3 and ½ years. He will also have to perform 160 hours of community service and cannot be seen in public places where people are meeting.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Russian Who Played Pokemon Go in Church Convicted of Inciting Hatred – 11 May 2017 

BBC News – Pokemon Go: Russian Blogger Suspended – 11 May 2017

Reuters – Russian court gives suspended sentenced to man who played Pokemon Go in church – 11 May 2017

Human Rights Watch – Russia: Pokemon Go Blogger Convicted – 11 May 2017

Bulgaria Bans the Burqa in Public

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe


SOFIA, Bulgaria — The Bulgarian parliament has passed a bill which bans women from wearing face veils, or burqas, in public places such as government offices, schools, cultural institutions, and public recreation areas.  Special exceptions will be made for those who wear the garment for health or professional reasons, as well as those who wear it at cultural events.


The ban applies to both Bulgarian citizens, as well as women entering the country temporarily.  Punishment for those who ignore the ban and continue to wear the burqa in the prohibited public places will face a fine of up to 1,500 levs ($860) as well as the suspension of social security benefits.

Supporters believe the ban will boost security amidst recent terrorist attacks in Europe.  The ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party believes the bill will allow for better video surveillance and improved security within the country.  Krasimir Velchev, senior GERB lawmaker, maintains that “[t]he law is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive.”  Krasimir Karakachanov, co-leader of the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition which backed the bill, considers the burqa to be “more of a uniform than a religious symbol.”

Opponents of the ban believe the ban violates Bulgarian womens’ freedom of expression and religion.  Human rights group Amnesty International calls the ban “part of a disturbing trend of intolerance, xenophobia, and racism…”  The group’s European director, John Dalhuisen, believes that the security issues that supporters of the ban are concerned with can be addressed with restrictions on the covering of the face in high risk locations only, and not through a blanket ban across the country.  Dalhuisen states that “this ban violates their rights to freedom of expression and religion.”  The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms refused to participate in the vote for the bill, saying the ban would “incite ethic and religious intolerance.”

The ban mirrors recent clothing bans in other European nations, such as the ban of the burkini in France, and the ban of the niqab in Netherlands and Belgium.  In Bulgaria, the Muslim community makes up for approximately 8% of the country’s population.


For more information, please see:

The Huffington Post — Bulgaria Bans Muslim Women from Wearing Full-Face Veils in Public — 3 October 2016

Independent — Bulgaria Imposes Burqa Ban – And Will Cut Benefits of Women who Deny it — 1 October 2016

The Sydney Morning Herald — Bulgaria the Latest European Country to Ban the Burqa and Niqab in Public Places — 1 October 2016

Daily Mail — Bulgaria Bans the Burqa: Women no Longer Allowed to Wear Veils After Nationalist Party Pushed for law Change Amid Fears of Islamic Terrorism — 30 September 2016

Review of Fiji’s Human Rights Record is of Utmost Importance

By Cindy Trinh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that the scheduled review of Fiji’s human rights record before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva will be of utmost importance.

Amnesty International accused Fiji of falsifying its human rights record in a report it submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Amnesty International says the Fiji government’s report is full of lies.

Apolosi Bose, spokesman for Amnesty International Pacific, stated that Amnesty International has documented human rights violations from Fiji since 2006.

Amnesty International expressed its strong disappointment with the way in which the government is misrepresenting its human rights record.

Amnesty International contends that Fiji included various things in its report that were not true. One thing is the statement in the report that everyone in Fiji is free to participate in public life.

Another statement allegedly not true is that religious freedom is enjoyed in Fiji. Bose stated that in the last couple months Amnesty International has seen evidence of the government banning the Methodist Church from having its annual conference, and persecution of senior ministers of the church.

Another thing the record included was the statement that Fiji’s judiciary is intact and its independence is intact. Bose stated that the Fiji government has passed decrees which give absolute powers to the register of the High Court, which decides whether or not a case can go before the court, and this decision cannot be challenged by any other courts. Also, in 2009, five magistrates were summarily dismissed without any explanation from the authorities. Bose says that this evidence shows a pattern of judicial interference.

Fiji is scheduled to have its human rights record formally reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council at a meeting in Geneva on the night of February 11, 2010.

The review will be based on one report submitted by the interim regime, another by the UN and a third by NGOs.

The Office’s regional representative, Matilda Bogner, says UN member states will discuss Fiji’s human rights situation and will recommend areas for improvement.

Bogner says Fiji’s interim government will then be called on to respond in a couple of months.

Bogner further stated: ” Fiji will have to state publicly which recommendations it commits itself to actually implement. So in that sense it’s also a very important mechanism, because the state does need to publicly commit to making improvements to human rights and then can be held accountable to those commitments in another four years time when it will be reviewed again.”

For more information, please see:
ABC Radio Australia – Amnesty accuses Fiji of lying over human rights record – 11 February 2010

Matavuvale: Fiji’s Family Network – Amnesty accuses Fiji of lying over human rights record – 11 February 2010

Radio New Zealand International – UN assessment of Fiji’s performance on human rights seen as important – 11 February 2010