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Freedom of religion and belief is a human right
Everyone in the UK has the freedom of religion and belief, which is a fundamental human right protected by a number of international treaties and declarations. This right encompasses freedom of thought on all matters. No matter what your family or the wider community says and irrespective of your race, sex, age, and background, you have this fundamental right.
Know how to protect yourself
- If you are worried about your personal safety, take it seriously. Consider the risk and whether you should involve the police.
- Open a separate/secret bank or savings account
- Leave copies of important documents such as passport, National Insurance number and birth certificate along with spare clothing and cash with a trusted friend.
- Keep helpline numbers close at hand. Have a telephone card or change for urgent phone calls.
- Arrange alternative emergency accommodation in case of need.
Your internet, e-mail and document use activities leave traces on your computer that can be found. Use a computer to which those you are fearful of do not have access to, such as at work, in a library, or a friend’s computer. Cover your tracks when searching for information, emailing about your situation or visiting sites and web-forums like those of the CEMB if you are using a computer that others may have access to.
Know that you are not alone
There are many people who are in or have been in your situation. Don’t despair. It really helps to meet other like-minded people who know what you are going through.
You can do this by becoming a member of the CEMB, coming to its events, and joining the CEMB’s web forum. There are also many local skeptic, humanist, secularist and atheist groups in various parts of the country that would be more than happy to lend a hand. They also have regular meetings, where you can meet like-minded people and get support.
Help is at hand
Make sure you know about your rights and options so that you can make informed choices. There are many organisations that provide assistance and support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
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Respect the person’s choices
Disclosures of fear should not be dismissed – for many people, seeking help from an agency is a last resort and therefore all disclosures should be taken seriously.
Do not involve the family
Involving families in such cases is dangerous. It may increase the risk of serious harm.
Do not use community leaders, neighbours and relatives as interpreters
People may feel embarrassed to discuss personal issues in front of them and sensitive information may be passed on to others and place the victim in danger.
Interview them in a private place:
Never speak to them in the presence of “friends.”
Explain their options:
Options victims have include seeking legal protection; leaving their family, starting a new life and possibly having to remain in hiding or live a life of ostracism and isolation; prosecute their family; or return to the family and hope the situation can be resolved. All the risks must be explained. There may be serious risk of harm if they choose to return to the family. To leave and start a new life can make them extremely vulnerable.
Establish whether they can be contacted in confidence at work, school, college, or through a trusted friend or organisation. If they have moved, do not meet the person at their new address, refuge or friend’s house as you may be followed.
Confidentiality and information sharing are going to be extremely important for anyone in a threatened situation.
Do not Encourage, initiate or facilitate family counselling, mediation, arbitration and reconciliation
Mediation and arbitration can place someone at risk of further emotional and physical abuse whether these are offered by Sharia councils, Muslim Arbitration Tribunals, imams and religious or professional groups.
Personal safety advice
If someone is planning to leave or the perpetrators suspect they might leave, they should take measures to ensure their safety and assess risk.
Under 18 Ex-Muslims
Ultimately, the first concern should be for the welfare of the young person. They may be at risk of significant harm if they are returned to their family. In these situations, police and Children and Young People’s Services should feel confident about justifying their actions, because experience shows that if information is shared with their family and friends it may place the person in danger.
A successful seminar was held on Sharia Law on Monday 8 March 2010 at Conway Hall in London to mark International Women’s Day. The seminar brought together Muslims, ex-Muslims, women’s rights campaigners, lawyers and politicians to outline the problems with Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and Sharia Councils and to propose recommendations for prohibiting religious tribunals and bringing about equal rights for all. Speakers at the seminar included: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (British Muslims for Secular Democracy); Yassi Atasheen (One Law for All); Clara Connolly (Women Against Fundamentalism); David Green (Civitas); Denis MacShane (MP); Rony Miah (Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Lawyers’ Secular Society); Maryam Namazie (One Law for All) and Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters). A report of the seminar’s findings is to be published shortly.