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04/21/2021 Germany (International Christian Concern) – According to a report by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), around 5.2 billion (or around 2 thirds of the world’s population) live in countries where there are grave violations to religious freedom, including the world’s most populous countries, China, India, and Pakistan. In most of these countries, religious minorities are the most targeted, and in recent years, the faith-based persecution by authoritarian governments has intensified. The report also highlights and denounces the increase of sexual violence used as a weapon against religious minorities – crimes against women and girls are abducted, raped, and forced to covert to another religion.

The promotion of ethnic and religious supremacy in some Hindu and Buddhist majority countries in Asia has led to further oppression of minorities, often reducing their members to de-facto second class citizenship. According to the report, India most extreme example of this, though similar policies apply in Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and others countries in Asia and the middle east. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the international president for Aid to the Church in Need defended the importance of religious freedom, saying that “it cannot be trampled on for any reason, neither by any government, nor by any political party, or any particular agenda.” Ahead of the release of the report earlier this week, Piacenza said that religious freedom contains within itself “the nucleus of all freedoms, since it relates to the human conscience and is thus linked to the dignity of every individual human being.”

In the report Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of Aid for ACN, stated that “Regrettably, however, despite the – albeit important – UN initiatives, and the staffing of religious freedom ambassadorships, to date the international community’s response to violence based on religion, and religious persecution in general, can be categorized as too little too late.”

With the re-emergence of jihadist groups in the Middle East, religious persecution against minority groups in these places is likely to see an uptick, something that the ACN report briefly noted. Although groups such as the Islamic State have been beaten back in places such as Syria and Iraq, they have not been completely eliminated and have been successful in spreading their ideology around the globe, through the use of the internet and connections in places like Africa and southeast Asia. A widespread re-emergence of IS and similar groups throughout the Middle East would prove devastating for religious minority communities in the region, many of whom are still reeling from decades of conflict and extreme persecution they have faced at the hands of these jihadist groups.

In light of the fragile foothold many groups maintain in these areas, the uptick in jihadist activity worldwide could spell trouble in the Middle East for many groups who are struggling. In addition to the rise of global jihadism, there is an increase in what is known as “polite persecution” or the rise of new cultural norms that consign religions to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or relegates them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Religious persecution has always been an issue, but in the interconnected world of today, it is easier to see the vast variety of persecution that goes on around the world. With this in mind, the contents of the ACN report while certainly alarming, are not entirely unexpected.

For interviews, contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].