Easter is a time of spiritual rejoicing for Christians around the world, but for many of them their future continues to be marred by profound anti-Christian persecution.
A couple of recent reports provided ample evidence of the grave situation facing believers in many countries. In Britain the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief published a detailed study of the situation in Pakistan.
While not an official parliamentary document the report does provide an insight into the thinking of a cross section of members of parliament from both the Commons and the House of Lords.
The report calculated that 96% of Pakistan’s approximately 191 million population are Muslims. Christians make up around 1.59% of the population. For religious minorities “Pakistan presents a particularly bleak environment for individuals wishing to manifest their right to freedom of religion or belief,” the report stated.
Members of the Ahmadiyya, Christian and Hindu communities in Pakistan face a real risk of persecution from a variety of national and provincial laws, the report explained.
This discrimination in some cases reaches the state of systematic discrimination and persecution, carried not only by private individuals but also by “State-sanctioned persecution.” The report talked of oppressive policies and laws imposed by government officials at both the federal and provincial levels, combined with impunity for those guilty of violent mob attacks on religious minorities.
This persecution persists in spite of Pakistan being a signatory to various international treaties and agreements that guarantee religious freedom. Moreover, even the nation’s constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, and founder of Pakistan’s independence as a country, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, declared the country would provide a home for all religious minorities.
The report noted that with the death of Jinnah in 1948, shortly after the independence of Pakistan, “the vision of religious tolerance and equality for all also dissipated.”
The report contained a number of recommendations for Pakistan’s government, including the need to guarantee parliamentary representation for religious minorities to a reform of the discriminatory blasphemy laws.
Among the recommendations of the report to the British government was the request that asylum requests from members of Pakistan’s religious minorities should be treated seriously and that grounds for asylum could exist on a cumulative basis rather than a single act of persecution.
Apart from more sympathetic treatment of asylum requests the report also urged that British government aid to Pakistan be directed to organizations and government programs that uphold freedom of religion or belief.
Shortly after the British report in the United States the Knights of Columbus published a report on the persecution of Christians by Islamic extremists. Titled “Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East” the report was submitted to Secretary of State John Kerry.
The 280-page report was prepared to assist the State Department in determining if the actions by ISIS against Christians could be classified as “genocide.” As previously reported by Zenit both the State Department, and also the European Parliament, have officially declared that ISIS has engaged in genocide.
In presenting the report Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson noted that with information continuing to arrive on the treatment of Christians the level of persecution detailed in the report “may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, supported the call to classify the persecution of Christians as genocide.
“With each passing day, the roll of modern martyrs grows,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “While we rejoice in their ultimate victory over death through the power of Jesus’ love, we must also help our fellow Christians carry the Cross of persecution and, as much as possible, help relieve their suffering,” he stated.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the State Department’s decision proclaiming that groups including Yazidis, Christians, and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide by Islamic extremists.
USCIRF’s Chairman, Robert P. George declared that all must stand against the destruction of religious minority communities. He also called upon the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court to investigate and take action against the atrocities being committed in Iraq and Syria.
The Middle East is, of course, not the only place where Christians face persecution. Open Doors USA published a recent report according to which 2015 was the worst year on record for Christians when it comes to beheadings, evictions and imprisonment.
“Islamic extremism continues to be the primary driving force behind the expansion of persecution,” said Open Doors President and CEO David Curry, according to press reports. “It is no longer just a Christian problem, but a global problem that must be addressed,” he said.
Amid all the reports, declarations and concern for the plight of Christians and other religious minorities, it remains to be seen if any effective action to put an end to religious persecution will be forthcoming.