Report: 5.2 Billion People Face ‘Very Severe Violations of Religious Freedom’

This picture taken on February 10, 2020 amidst a heavy snow storm shows a view of the Roma
ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly one third of the world’s countries, where two thirds of the world’s population live, violate religious freedom, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported Tuesday.

Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, according to ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World Report 2021, an 818-page compendium of the state of religious freedom and persecution in the world today.

Persecution on the grounds of religious belief is a growing global phenomenon, the biennial report declares, and religious freedom violations have accelerated and expanded to the point where “systematic and egregious attacks are coming from governments, lynching mobs, as well as international terror groups,” such as Boko Haram or the Islamic State.

The report found the populations of 62 countries out of a total of 196 face “very severe violations of religious freedom,” adding that the number of people living in these countries “is close to 5.2 billion, as the worst offenders include some of the most populous nations in the world (China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria).”

Moreover, during the past two years since the publication of ACN’s last report, “there has been a significant increase in the severity of religiously motivated persecution and oppression which is the principal category of concern,” the report noted.

Much of this religiously motivated persecution has come from “transnational jihadist networks spreading across the Equator,” the document reveals, and “Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, with ideological and material patronage from the Middle East, affiliate with, and further radicalise, local armed militias to establish ‘caliphate provinces’ along the Equator.”

This activity has resulted in “a crescent of jihadist violence [that] stretches from Mali to Mozambique in Sub-Saharan Africa, to the Comoros in the Indian Ocean, and to the Philippines in the South China Sea.”

Additionally, an expanding “cyber-caliphate” is now “an established tool of online recruitment and radicalisation in the West,” the report declared. “Islamist terrorists employ sophisticated digital technologies to recruit, radicalise, and attack.”

Another driver of religious persecution is growing religious nationalism, or “ethno-religious supremacy in Hindu-majority and Buddhist-majority countries in Asia,” the report reveals. “These movements have further oppressed religious minorities, reducing them to the status of de facto second-class citizens.”

Totalitarian atheist regimes such as those of China and North Korea are a further source of intense religious persecution, the report declared, and over 30 million Muslims in China and Myanmar (including Uyghur and Rohingya Muslims) face severe persecution, with little resistance thus far from the international community.

The Chinese Communist Party now employs repressive surveillance technologies that increasingly target faith groups, with “626 million AI-enhanced surveillance cameras and smart-phone scanners at key pedestrian check-points, producing data which is cross-referenced by analytical platforms and coupled with an integrated social credit system,” the report stated.

A new category in this year’s report is the notion of “polite persecution,” a term used to describe the rise of new “rights” or cultural norms that conflict with and often supersede the right to religious freedom, seeking to consign religions to “the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.”

“These new cultural norms, enshrined in law, result in an individual’s rights to freedom of conscience and religion coming into a profound conflict with the legal obligation to comply with these laws,” the report stated.

The ACN report distinguishes between intolerance, discrimination, persecution, and genocide. Persecution “might be an active programme or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on membership of a religious group” or may be “perpetrated by single individuals,” it stated.

Acts of persecution need not be “systematic” nor occur following a strategy, the report asserted.


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