3/19/2011 Iraq (ChurchTimes) – The persecution of Christians worldwide has worsened dramatically in the past few years, a new report by a Roman Catholic aid agency suggests. Persecuted and Forgotten?, from Aid to the Church in Need, says that Christians are facing increased suffering in 22 countries around the world, and that Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Nigeria are some of the worst countries in which to be a Christian today.
The rise of militant Islam poses a particular threat to Christians, the report suggests. It also highlights a rise in nationalism in India, Sri Lanka, and Burma, and the intimidation of Christian groups in communist states such as Venezuela.
A spokesman for Aid to the Church in Need, John Pontifex, said: “Extremists increasingly link local Christians in their countries to the West. As they are in most cases unable to attack Western countries direct, many extremists turn their fire on local Christians.”
Three years ago, the charity was concerned that Christianity in the Middle East was sliding into obscurity; now, it fears that it is in danger of being extinguished altogether. In Israel and Palestine, the report says, “survival of a Christian presence worth the name is under threat even in the short-to-medium term,” and in Iran it is “ebbing away into obscurity”.
Violent attacks on Christians at places of worship are increasing. In Alexandria, in Egypt, in January, 20 people were killed and 70 injured when a car bomb targeted a Coptic church (News, 7 January).
Iraq has seen an exodus of Christians. At the time of the last census, in 1987, there were 1.4 million Christians in the country. By 2003, that figure had fallen to about 800,000. Now, leading Roman Catholics in the country believe, the figure could be as low as 150,000.
In 22 out of 34 countries that the charity has under review, persecution has worsened in the past two years. The report says: “The proportion of countries with a worsening track-record of anti-Christian violence and intimidation would be higher were it not for the fact that in many cases the situation could scarcely have been worse in the first place.”
The President of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, accused the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, this week of operating an “anti-Christian foreign policy” by failing to attach any conditions when he hands over millions of pounds in aid to countries such as Pakistan.
Aid to Pakistan has doubled in the past year to more than £445 million, he said, and yet the Foreign Secretary had made no demands for religious freedom for persecuted minorities in the country, including Christians and Shi’a Muslims.
“To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld, and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down, is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy. This reality is both shocking and saddening.”
He said that Mr Hague must put pressure on the governments of Pakistan and other Arab countries, and make clear that the provision of aid “must require a commitment to human rights”.
Earlier this month, the only Christian in the Pakistani government, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered, after he had spoken out against the country’s punitive blasphemy laws (News, 4 March).
Also in Pakistan, a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, faces the death penalty after being sentenced for blasphemy last year, despite international protests.