The United States State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 revealed some dire news about the state of religious tolerance in the world: with ongoing persecution in North Korea, Iran, China, Pakistan, and many other countries, 2013 saw the largest population of displaced persecuted minorities “in recent memory.”
In an extensive analysis of the state of religious freedom across the world, the State Department notes that widespread persecution of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and a variety of other faiths led to widespread violence in areas as diverse as China, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, and the Central African Republic.
As always, however, the most egregious consistent violator of religious freedom is the government of North Korea, which the State Department notes “stood out for its absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities.” Reports of mass executions of individuals for possibly possessing copies of the Bible are not uncommon, nor are reports of individuals being sentenced to work at labor camps to be “re-educated” into North Korean communism.
China is also a serial abuses of religious minorities – Buddhist, Uyghur Muslim, and Christian alike. In April, 2013, seven Christians found attending “mass” in a house church hidden from the Chinese government were sentenced to terms between three and seven and a half years for “recording and copying sermons.” Falun Gong practitioners and those who self-immolate to protest for the freedom of Tibet are also harshly punished.
It is not just systematic state oppression that has hurt religious populations globally, however. In areas like Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad often attempts to use the Christian population to leverage his popularity, Sunni Jihadist groups persecute and kill Christians. The State Department estimates that in Homs, one of the cities most ravaged by the Syrian Civil War, “the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict.”
Of note also is the government of Iran, which brutally imposes its Shia Muslim regime and arrests Christians and non-believers. Pastor Saeed Abedini, a Christian American who was arrested for publicly practicing Christianity, most notably continues to serve out a prison sentence for publicly practicing his faith.
Easily overlooked but notable on the list is the government of Tajikistan, the only country which bans minors from participating in public religious activities of any kind, and bans women from attending services at mosques.
Speaking of the study, Secretary of State John Kerry noted that “75 percent of the world’s population still lives in countries that don’t respect religious freedoms,” creating a free-flowing humanitarian crisis that affects global, diverse populations. He condemned North Korea in particularl for “its absolute and brutal repression of religious activity,” as well as China, Iran, and Russia.