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ICC Note: Awareness of religious persecution must be raised, and twelve states around the world stand out. Religious believers and friends of liberty around the world must press for change through political activism, publicity campaigns, and prayer.

The American Spectator (07/11/06) – Americans take religious liberty for granted. Despite some hostile cultural currents, we are largely free to believe in God and worship together.

Unfortunately, people of faith, and particularly Christians, face far more restrictions abroad. In many nations religious persecution is the norm. The worst violators of this most basic human right tend to be Islamic states. Other significant oppressors are communist or simply authoritarian.

Many states actively suppress expressions of religious belief, especially by minority faiths. Others purport to be neutral but stand by when local authorities penalize and mobs brutalize religious believers.

A Dirty Dozen persecutors stand out.

Bangladesh . Religious freedom is nominally protected in this one-time secular state. Private discrimination and violence is usually ignored or abetted by the civil authorities. The State Department reported the existence of “killings, rapes, attacks on places of worship, and forced evictions.”

Burma . Few nations so systematically brutalize so many of their citizens. Observes the State Department: “The government continued to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Probably the worst religious horrors are visited as part of the barbaric war practiced against ethnic groups, such as the Karen and Karenni, which have been struggling for autonomy for decades. More than 100,000 refugees have fled into neighboring Thailand and millions more people have been displaced within their own country.

China . Although the plight of religious believers in China is better today than it was 20 years ago, the situation remains bleak for many people of faith. The Beijing government has been particular unforgiving in dealing with beliefs that it perceives to be a political threat, such as the Falun Gong and Tibetan Buddhism.

Eritrea . Although birthed as part of a long independence struggle against Ethiopia , this relatively new nation is inhospitable to personal independence. In this majority Muslim nation religious groups are to register with the government, subjecting themselves to government control. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have suffered particularly greatly. Nearly 2,000 Christians currently are imprisoned, a sharp increase over the previous year.

Indonesia . Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cites Indonesia as a model of tolerance for the Muslim world, but that is true only in comparison with more oppressive states, such as Saudi Arabia . Minority faiths, most notably Christian, suffer greatly in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Iran . The Iranian government is formally an Islamic republic which recognizes no right of private belief, conscience, or worship. Observes the State Department: “The government engaged in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Members of religious minorities–including Sunni Muslims, Baha’is, Jews, and Christians–reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs.”

Laos . The communist government seeks to control anyone independent of the government. Religious groups are expected to register (and be controlled). Believers are subject to arrest and, notes the State Department, “Persons arrested for their religious activities were sometimes charged with exaggerated security or other criminal offenses.”

Nigeria . The west African nation of Nigeria is divided along religious as well as tribal lines. Nigeria long has suffered from religious tensions and radical Islamic movements. State governments discriminate against Christians in public benefits, employment, and and land use. Twelve states have implemented sharia law.

North Korea . No religious liberty exists in what is perhaps the most closed society on earth. Although some churches exist, they are effectively government-controlled. Independent religious activity is proscribed and severely punished. Allegations abound of arrest, torture, and execution of members of underground churches.

Pakistan . An Islamic republic, Pakistan formally allows the practice of minority faiths but discriminates against non- Muslims. Access to government jobs and public services are limited for Christians and others. Moreover, the blasphemy law has been applied against anyone who publicly questions Islam or speaks the truth about Muhammed’s life.

Saudi Arabia . In this essentially totalitarian state only Sunni Islam is officially allowed, leading to discrimination against Shi’a and non-Muslim faiths. People are not even always left alone at home to practice their faith. Any public display of another religion ensures official punishment.

Sudan . Over the last two decades millions of people have died and been turned into refugees as a result of almost endless civil war. Discrimination is embedded within the system: For instance, Christian converts face arrest and possible death. Attempts have been made to forcibly convert Christians and impose sharia on Christians. Churches and other facilities have been destroyed.

Assessing the relative brutality of varying regimes isn’t easy, and the level of repression sometimes changes over time. Unfortunately, many other nations have a claim to membership in the Dirty Dozen…[Go To Full Story]