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New U.N. Resolution on Religious Freedom Drops 'Defamation' Concept

Open Doors' U.N. Lobbying, International Campaign Helped Turn Tide

Contact: Jerry Dykstra, Open Doors USA, 616-915-4117, jerryd@odusa.org

SANTA ANA, Calif., March 29, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- Last Thursday the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution on worldwide religious intolerance while taking a significant step away from the controversial, restrictive "Defamation of Religions" resolution.

The new resolution refers to the Charter of the United Nations, reiterating the right to freedom of religion or belief. The resolution also reaffirms the positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has, while expressing concern about incidents of intolerance, discrimination and violence against persons based on their religion or belief in all regions of the world.

Additionally, the resolution strongly deplores all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, as well as any such acts directed against their homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centers or places of worship. It recognizes that open public debate of ideas can be the best protection against religious intolerance.

The defamation of religions resolutions, although not legally binding, provided international legitimacy for national laws that punish blasphemy or ban criticism of a religion. A prime example is the blasphemy law in Pakistan, which has resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds, including Christians such as Asia Noreen (Bibi) who has been condemned to death by hanging. The resolutions were introduced annually for 12 years by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

"I am pleased the Organization of Islamic Conference countries have finally decided to not re-introduce a defamation of religions resolution this year and instead has introduced a compromise text that was drafted with input from the United States government," said Open Doors Advocacy Director Lindsay Vessey. "This represents a huge victory for all those who worked to defeat the defamation resolutions. Open Doors would like to thank its supporters who spoke out against defamation resolutions.

"I am especially pleased to note that a number of the countries I lobbied -- along with a small group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in New York City -- expressed an interest in changing their votes. Several of those countries our group lobbied were ones to change their votes in the U.N. General Assembly last year. This is truly encouraging that our efforts to bring awareness about the dangers of the defamation of religions concept resulted in diminishing support for the resolution."

Through Open Doors' international campaign called "Free to Believe," more than 428,000 people from over 70 countries signed a petition urging countries to vote against the defamation resolution last fall. The defamation resolution received the least support ever in 2010, narrowly passing the U.N. Human Rights Council and General Assembly by four and 13 votes, respectively.

Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, added: "The most disturbing issues with the defamation resolutions at the U.N. have been addressed in this new resolution. Open Doors recognizes and appreciates the critical role that U.S. legislators, the U.S. State Department under both the previous and current administration and fellow religious freedom groups have played  in campaigning and lobbying against the defamation of religions resolutions and producing a compromise text. I warmly welcome this effort of the Human Rights Council to address both freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief in a more balanced and constructive way."

Vessey noted that although the new resolution is significantly improved over the defamation resolution, Open Doors USA is still wary of how OIC member countries treat religious minorities. Open Doors will be monitoring whether or not the countries implement the stated ideals of the new draft.

Currently OIC member countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan continue to actively persecute religious minorities or allow extremists inside their countries to persecute non-Islamic faith groups with little or no consequences. For example, Compass Direct News reported Monday that two Indian Christians arrested after attending a prayer meeting in Saudi Arabia in January have languished in prison. The government has not brought formal charges against the two Christians.

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.

(To set up an interview, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email jerryd@odusa.org.)