Blog Post

Report: Religious Persecution Becoming More Terrifying

A new report by the U.S. State Department details an increase in religious persecution that is becoming so frightening that many observers are becoming numb to lesser violations.

"The state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations," according to the annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

"The blatant assaults have become so frightening – attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated. Many observers have become numb to violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion."

During a press conference about the new report, former Senator Sam Brownback, who serves as the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, told the media that “We all have a stake in this fight. One person’s bondage is another person’s burden to break. We’re all people with beautiful and undeniable human dignity. Our lives are sacred. Our right to choose the road our conscience takes is inalienable.”

The kind of persecution documented in the report ranges from people being killed for their faith to those who are denied access to work or medicine for their beliefs, and include people of all faiths, from Christians to Muslims to Falun Gong practitioners.

He cited incidents in Eritrea where the government reportedly killed, arrested, and tortured religious adherents and coerced individuals into renouncing their faith. Religious prisoners are routinely sent to the harshest prisons and receive some of the cruelest punishments. Released religious prisoners have reported that they were kept in solitary confinement or crowded conditions, such as in 20-foot metal shipping containers or underground barracks, and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations.

In India, it is estimated that on average of 10 times a week, a church was burned down or a cleric beaten between January and October 2016. —triple the number of incidents reported in 2015. Hindu nationalists routinely destroy church property, beat congregation members including females who are often stripped naked and beaten.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public and imprisons, lashes, and fines individuals for apostasy, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam. In one case, a Saudi blogger named Raif Badawi was imprisoned for, among other things, insulting Islam and religious authorities. According to the report, the sentence called for Badawi to be lashed 50 times a week for 20 consecutive weeks. Immediately after the first set of 50 lashes was carried out in January 2016, numerous human rights groups and several governmental entities, including USCIRF, condemned the implementation of the sentence. Badawi has not received additional floggings, due in part to international outrage and in part to a medical doctor’s finding that he could not physically endure more lashings, although according to Badawi’s family the lashings could resume at any time.

The Ambassador also expressed concern about the lack of religious freedom in Pakistan where some 50 individuals are serving life sentences for trumped up blasphemy charges, 17 of which are facing execution. Forced conversion of Hindu and Christian girls and young women into Islam and marriage, often through bonded labor, remains a systemic problem.

In China Falun Gong adherents, Uighur Muslims and members of other religious minorities continue to be imprisoned; with many of them dying in custody.

In Russia, authorities target peaceful religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, equating them with terrorists.

The report details atrocities being committed against Christians in North Korea due the government’s extreme hatred of the faith, which it considers to be its biggest threat because it associates that faith with the West, particularly the United States. Through robust surveillance, the regime actively tries to identify and search out Christians practicing their faith in secret and imprisons those it apprehends, often along with their family members even if they are not similarly religious, the report finds. Consequently, there are reportedly up to 120,000 individuals languishing in harsh prison camps known as kwanliso, of which tens of thousands are Christians who face hard labor, inhuman living conditions and execution.

Ambassador Brownback said the U.S. government welcomes engagement with these governments in order to address these urgently needed reforms.

"So today, 20 years after Congress passed the original International Religious Freedom Act, we've made important progress, but for far too many, the state of religious freedom is dire," he added. "We have to work together to accomplish change."

Pope Francis has been an outspoken advocate for the end of worldwide religious persecution.

“It is unacceptable that human beings be persecuted and killed because of their religious affiliation!” he said in January of this year while addressing a group of Yazidis, a persecuted minority in Iraq. “Every person has the right to freely profess his religious beliefs without constraints.”

After speaking up for the rights of the Yazidis, he said, “No one can bestow on themselves the power to cancel a religious group because it is not part of those called ‘tolerated.’”

He has repeatedly called upon the international community to do more to help those persecuted for their faith and asks all to pray that God will help us “to build together a world where we can live in peace and brotherhood.”

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