UN expert urges States to protect freedom of religion for all prisoners

24 October 2005 –

All countries must respect and protect the rights of prisoners to freedom of religion, an independent expert on the issue says in a new report to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir, has received a “growing number” of reports of alleged abuses of these rights against persons deprived of their liberty, according to the report, released today.

The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that a person’s detention or incarceration may not include deprivation of his or her right to freedom of religion or belief. “These standards must be applied to every prisoner regardless of his or her religion or belief and to all detention facilities,” she writes.

Ms. Jahangir also recommends that the principles pertaining to the right to freedom of religion or belief be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities and that that issue be heavily stressed during the training of the officers involved.

“The religious beliefs of a detainee should under no circumstances be used by the authorities against the detainee in order, for instance, to extract information from him or her,” she declares.

Citing the deaths of several people following allegations earlier this year that the Koran had been desecrated in detention facilities, she emphasizes that “the respect of religious freedom has an impact that is not limited to the prison walls.”

According to the report, the Special Rapporteur has contacted 35 countries in 75 separate communications concerning violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Half went to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, nearly a third to Europe and North America, 12 per cent to the Arab region, 9 per cent to Africa and none to Latin America.

Ms. Jahangir lists 15 States that she’d like to visit and thanks four – Bangladesh, China, Israel and Mauritius – for responding with invitations. She voices hope that the remaining countries – Azerbaijan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, the United States and Uzbekistan – will invite her.

The Special Rapporteur earlier this year joined forces with other UN experts, including those dealing with torture, the independence of judges and arbitrary detention, to ask the United States for permission to visit the Guantanamo Bay military base. According to the report, she will continue working with these other experts “on the future developments concerning this request.”

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who receive their mandate from the UN Commission on Human Rights and report to back to it.

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