All religious faiths are victims of persecution somewhere. Over the last year “a horrified world has watched the results of what some have aptly called violence masquerading as religious devotion” in several nations, observed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its latest annual report.
The Commission highlighted 27 countries for particularly vicious treatment of religious minorities. Nine states make the first tier, “Countries of Particular Concern,” in State Department parlance.
Burma. Despite recent reforms, noted the Commission, “these steps have not yet improved conditions for religious freedom and related human rights in the country, nor spurred the Burmese government to curtail those perpetrating abuses.”
China. President Xi Jinping’s attempt to tighten the state’s control over all dissent has impacted believers, who “continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship.”
Eritrea. Everyone suffers under a repressive, fanatical, and isolationist regime: “The government regularly tortures and beats political and religious prisoners; however, religious prisoners are sent to the harshest prisons and receive some of the cruelest punishments.”
Iran. Persecution has increased since the ascension of President Hassan Rouhani as president: “The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”
North Korea. Despite a handful of official churches, “Genuine freedom of religion or belief is non-existent. Individuals secretly engaging in religious activities are subject to arrest, torture, imprisonment, and sometimes execution.
Saudi Arabia. Not one church, synagogue, or other house of worship is allowed to operate. The monarchy “continues to prosecute and imprison individuals for dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery.”
Sudan. The small Christian community suffers from the government’s “policies of Islamization and Arabization.” Moreover, apostasy and conversion are punished.
Turkmenistan. In this former Soviet republic religious liberty remains highly restricted: “Police raids and harassment of registered and unregistered religious groups continued.”
Uzbekistan. The most populous Central Asian state is determined “to enforce a highly restrictive religion law and to impose severe restrictions on all independent religious activity.”
The USCIRF also recommended that another eight nations join the forgoing as CPCs.
Central African Republic. CAR has been rent by violence between antagonistic militias. For much of last year it “was engulfed in a religious conflict.”
Egypt. Although President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has attempted to use Coptic Christians for his political advantage, “the Egyptian government has not adequately protected religious minorities” from discrimination, prosecution, and violence.
Iraq. The situation greatly deteriorated last year. While the Islamic State was the worst perpetrator, “the Iraqi government also contributed to the deterioration in religious freedom conditions.”
Nigeria. Today the greatest threat to religious liberty is the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which attacks Christians and moderate Muslims.
Pakistan. This U.S. ally tolerates “chronic sectarian violence” against religious minorities and the promiscuous misuse of the infamous “blasphemy” law.
Syria. Unfortunately, members of most religions now suffer at the hands of one faction or another in the multi-sided civil war.
Tajikistan. The government “suppresses and punishes all religious activity independent of state control, particularly the activities of Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Vietnam. Despite a number of economic reforms, this communist state “continues to control all religious activities through law and administrative oversight, restrict severely independent religious practice, and repress individuals and religious groups.”
Further, the Commission cited ten so-called tier 2 nations, where violations are severe, but a notch below those of the CPCs: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey.
As I pointed out in Forbes online: “Religious liberty is the first freedom, the bedrock liberty of conscience upon which civil and political freedoms rest. With religious liberty under siege around the world, people of goodwill should stand for the rights of believers everywhere.”
America continues to protect religious liberty, but the foundation is cracking. Americans should learn the lessons overseas and redouble their efforts to prevent similar fates at home.
This article originally appeared in Cato at Liberty.
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