Christians continue to face fierce opposition in many countries and two recent reports provide ample evidence of this.
The first one, published by the UK’s office of the organization Aid to the Church in Need was titled, “Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith 2013-2015.”
The report examined 23 countries of concern. It accused Islamic groups of engaging in religiously motivated ethnic cleansing in the Middle East and in parts of Africa. As well the fear of such persecution has caused a mass exodus of Christians from these areas.
In Iraq, for example, the report warned that Christianity could disappear within five years. Already Up to 50% of Christians still in Iraq have been internally displaced within the last 18 months.”
Aid to the Church in Need added that it is not only Islamic groups behind this, but also other religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jewish. Governments, such as the Chinese and North Korean have also pressured Christians.
Similar persecution was noted in Eritrea where former prisoners have described physical abuse. Reportedly, up to 3,000 Eritreans – the majority of them Christian – are currently imprisoned for their religious beliefs, the report stated.
In India, radical Hindu movements have increased their attacks against Christians. While Buddhist extremists in Sri Lanka have destroyed or forced the closure of many churches.
Christians are the most persecuted
The report affirmed that Christians are the most persecuted religious group. It cited a 2012 report by a German organization which said that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination were against Christians.
“The decline of Christianity in many countries of concern has potentially profound significance regarding prospects for peace as Christians have traditionally been important ‘peace builders’ in society,” the report commented.
“This emptying of Christians from regions which had been their home for centuries, is bound to be seen by future historians as a decisive move towards religious totalitarianism,” said the report.
The situation has become worse since the last report by Aid to the Church in Need in 2013. Nineteen of the countries in the most recent report also featured in the 2013 edition and of those fifteen experienced a deteriorating situation for Christians.
The second report was the annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2014, published by the U.S. Department of State.
“In 2014, non-state actors committed some of the world’s most egregious abuses of religious freedom and other human rights,” the Department of State noted.
“Government failure, delay, and inadequacy in combatting these groups often had severe consequences for people living under significant and dire restrictions on, and interference with, their exercise of freedom of religion,” it added.
The Department of State also made special mention of the problems in the Middle East in the report’s introduction. In areas taken over by extremist Islamic groups Christians were given the option of converting, paying a ruinous tax, or being killed. As a result many fled their homes.
Some African countries were also singled out for mention, such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In these countries the group Boko Haram sought to impose its religious and political beliefs, killing more people in 2014 than in the previous five years.
“As West Africa’s most active terror group, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for scores of fatal attacks on churches and mosques, often killing worshipers during religious services or immediately afterward,” the report observed.
The report also mentioned that governments have the responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens, including the right to freedom of conscience, belief, practice, worship and the right to change one’s faith.
Nevertheless in some countries, such as Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Burma, and Russia, authorities fail to do this and “whether by deed or inaction, they legitimize and facilitate non-state actors who persecute and discriminate against members of vulnerable religious communities, nurture an environment of intolerance, and weaken the ties that support peaceful and resilient societies.”
In Pakistan, for example, not only has the government not only refrained from investigating or prosecuting those guilty of religious freedom abuses but it has also continued to use discriminatory legislation, such as blasphemy laws.
Blasphemy and apostasy laws have had a negative impact in a number of countries. In addition to Pakistan the report mentioned Sudan and Saudi Arabia as places where this is a problem.
Some authoritarian countries have used the excuse of counter-terrorism and the need to combat extremists as an excuse to limit religious freedom, the Department of State commented. This has occurred in many Central Asian countries, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
In China, the report noted, government authorities tortured, arrested and harassed a number of believers, both from registered and unregistered religious groups. Local authorities destroyed hundreds of Christian churches and crosses.
As the reports show religious persecution is flourishing, and it is vital it not be forgotten or overlooked as fundamental human rights are violated.
Aid to the Church in Need report http://www.acnuk.org/persecuted
Department of State report http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper