Today marks the fourth annual International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, a day designated by the United Nations to remember the plight of those suffering from their religious beliefs around the world. In anticipation of this day of remembrance, International Christian Concern (ICC) has provided a brief analysis of the ways Christians and other religious minorities face violence globally.
ICC was founded in 1995 to serve the persecuted Christian community around the globe. Since its founding, ICC, unfortunately, has not had a shortage of work and has witnessed some of the most gruesome acts of violence against Christians and other religious minorities. Over the past decade, the unprecedented rise of persecution around the world has left Christians at nearly impossible odds, facing both direct and indirect forms of persecution. What much of the public fails to recognize is that persecution has a shifting nature as to how it manifests, depending on the region, country, and even local community where a Christian resides. Much of it draws from ethnic conflict, cultural norms, discriminatory legal frameworks, false narratives about the Christian community, government propaganda, and a host of other convenient ways for various oppressive forces to continue the persecution of Christians.
One of the most concerning areas of persecution for Christians continues to be Nigeria, where Christians routinely face violence in the form of targeted bombings, mass shootings, death by machete, immolation, and other unfathomable acts of torture. As a result, the number of Christians killed has reached genocide levels, as the Fulani ethnic group, Boko Haram, and other militants continue to commit these crimes without reparation. The Nigerian government continues to overlook these attacks, and President Buhari has expressed little to no interest in attempting to curb the violence in his country.
In other countries like Uganda, Christian women who convert from Islam have been increasingly targeted through interfamilial violence. More frequently, cases have occurred where a woman’s Muslim husband, father, or brother has tortured or murdered the girl, including her children, in some instances, in retaliation for her conversion.
And across East Africa, countries like Kenya, Somalia, and Mozambique have seen widespread acts of terrorism from jihadist extremist groups like al-Shabab and ISIS. Other areas throughout the region continue to witness similar levels of rising terrorism, and little has been done in terms of international response or regional action to curtail the violence.
In the Middle East
Christians in the Middle East have faced insurmountable acts of violence for decades. Most people can recall the brutal reign of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, where the mass killing of Christians reached genocide numbers, and hundreds of thousands more were forcefully displaced from their homes. Today, many of these Christian communities remain unable to return due to reports of violence and arbitrary detainment from militia groups. In countries like Egypt, the Coptic Christian community has seen a recent surge in sectarian attacks, primarily from local Muslim leaders who seek to push Coptic churches out of their communities. And in countries like Iran, the government’s misinformation campaign against Christians through state-sponsored media has led to greater social intolerance, increasing the vulnerability and justifying the detention of Iranian Christians.
For Christians who converted from Islam, the risk of violence is almost two-fold. Reports from countries like Qatar have shown that converts routinely face physical, psychological, and sexual violence. The risk increases even more for Christian women and girls, who face twice the amount of persecution for both their gender and religion. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria have been recognized for some of the most heinous acts of violence against women and children.
In South Asia
One of the most extreme examples of blasphemy laws is found in Pakistan, where unfounded accusations continue to be leveraged against Christians at various levels of society. A mere allegation of blasphemy immediately puts a Christian at risk in the community, as mob violence regularly occurs and is even encouraged by local Muslim imams who seek to oppress their Christian neighbors. Furthermore, women and girls, including Christian and other religious minorities, are regularly targeted by kidnappings, forced conversions, and forced marriages by older Muslim men. These perpetrators often receive little retaliation from authorities, who are slow and sometimes unwilling to prosecute these men who enjoy protection from their families, local mosque, and community. In Pakistan and across South Asia, the Muslim majority operates with nearly complete impunity while committing violent acts of persecution against Christians.
India has also witnessed a significant rise in violence against the Christian community, as Prime Minister Modi and his BJP political party continue to promote a fascist ideology that encourages the expulsion and suppression of religious minorities. As India attempts to rid its country of all non-Hindu religious groups, local State governments have passed anti-conversion laws that prohibit or severely limit the freedom of individuals to change their religion. Any individual who seeks to change their religion faces extreme scrutiny from the government and, in some cases, faces persecution and other forms of violence from the community.
After the Taliban’s brutal takeover of Afghanistan last August, Christians and other religious minorities have faced violence that mirrors the tactics used during the Taliban’s previous reign in the late 90s. Public executions, beheadings, and floggings are all forms of violence that the Taliban has recently used to target Christians. Additionally, women and girls have faced an even greater risk, with reports telling of the brutal rape and forced marriage of females to Taliban fighters.
In Southeast Asia
Christians in Southeast Asia face some of the most unique forms of persecution, often sourced from intolerant governments which target Christians through the legal system. For example, countries like China work to criminalize Christians who refuse to submit to the communist government’s control, while anti-conversion and blasphemy laws in countries like Malaysia and Brunei have been used to target non-Muslim faiths. In many cases, even an allegation of blasphemy has led to extrajudicial killings against Christians.
Christians in North Korea are guaranteed a spot in one of the country’s labor camps if authorities discover their faith. Some reports estimate that over 70,000 Christians currently work in these camps, where prisoners are subjected to forced labor, torture, starvation, and execution. As a result, many Christians live in fear of sharing their faith, as the North Korean government utilizes a secret police force to uncover any non-adherents to the worship of Kim Jong-un and his political party.
A decades-long war in Burma, instigated by the Burmese military, has left Christians living in Kachin State to face some of the most unthinkable acts of violence. More than 90% of Kachin State’s inhabitants are Christian, confirming that the government’s targeted campaign is driven by ethnic and religious cleansing. The Burmese army has subjected Christians and other religious minorities to rape, torture, murder, and as one report details, as “subjects used to clear land minds” for military operations.
In the West
The West has generally enjoyed a robust level of religious liberty that has been enshrined in numerous constitutional provisions. The Christian community, in particular, has enjoyed this freedom and, in many cases, taken it for granted. However, in recent years, growing hostility towards Christians in the West has led to targeted incidents of violence.
More recently, in the United States, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, dozens of Christian pregnancy resource centers around the country were vandalized, attacked, and in some cases, set ablaze by radical pro-abortion groups. Churches in both the U.S. and across Europe have also seen dramatic increases in attacks, with one report estimating that at least 200 Catholic churches in the U.S. have been vandalized since May 2020. In Europe, churches in countries like France and Germany have also had a recent string of attacks, along with rising cases of hate crimes against Christians, including physical violence, robberies, and verbal abuse.
In the U.S. and Europe, aggressive secularists have pursued legal action against people of faith for their beliefs. Most recently, from Finland, is the case of Paivi Rasanen, a Christian woman who served in the Finnish Parliament and as the Minister of the Interior. When Mrs. Rasanen publicly held to her religious views on marriage, gender, and sex, she was prosecuted by the General Prosecutor of Finland and has been facing a legal battle for over two years. While the courts recently sided with Mrs. Rasanen in decisions so far, the concern continues to grow that Christians and others who publicly hold to their religious views will face similar aggression from the secular left.
ICC’s Advocacy Director, Matias Perttula, said, “Paivi’s case at its core is really a western form of a blasphemy accusation like what we see time and again in countries like Pakistan, where atheists, Ahmadiyya, and Christians are accused of insulting Islam, usually with little to no proof. We hope and pray that the Finnish courts continue to side with Paivi because any other decision would jeopardize religious freedom, freedom of expression, and speech in Finland and set a horrifying example for the rest of the world.”
In this case and those mentioned previously, ICC continues to monitor and advocate against the persecution of Christians globally. We pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who face these violent acts simply because of their faith. We call on the United States government and the international community to hold these bad actors accountable and to put an end to the intolerance and assault of religious minorities once and for all.
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