The “Religious Freedom in the World 2018” report, newly launched by Aid to the Church in Need, lists grave violations of religious freedom in 38 countries and the situation is clearly worsening.
This report assesses the religious situation of 196 countries in the world, looking at legislation, incidents of note, and at a projection of likely trends. In about 20 percent of the countries examined the report found evidence of significant violation of religious freedom. In the worst cases, terrorist groups are engaged in “active campaigns of violence and subjugation, including murder, false detention, and forced exile.” This happened in 11% of the states considered.
There was no obvious sign of change since 2016 in almost half of the countries where persecution takes place. Only in Iraq and Syria religious freedom improved, following the losses suffered ISIS and other Islamist groups, while it deteriorated in Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Those two countries entered the ‘discrimination’ category for the first time. Militant Islamist violence declined in Tanzania and Kenya but in many places the situation is getting worse as the main threat comes from the State, rather than from groups. In Burma, for instance, the ultra-nationalist Buddhist government has increased its hostility to minority groups, particularly to Rohingya Muslims.
Compared to the previous reporting period, 2018 recorded 18 countries where religious freedom has worsened. This represents an increase of four countries.
It is important to realise that both China and India, which are the most populous states in the world and also among the fast-growing economies, have experienced a decline of religious freedom. In the Madhya Pradesh state in central India, for instance, 736 attacks against Christian by Hindu fanatics were recorded in 2017. More than double compared to the previous year.
The report noted that “developments in India are typical of a rise in religious ultra-nationalism across some of the world’s leading nations, each with the common denominator that faith minorities are under attack.”
A large number of case studies is presented in the Aid to the Church in Need report showed how people of all faiths are subjected to religious discrimination. The authors noted that religion is a crucial driving force for the majority of the people in the world but in the West, religious liberty has lost ground to other rights.
Yesterday, landmark buildings around the world were floodlit in red to highlight religious persecution. Speaking in Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, said “The fact that persecution and martyrdom of our fellow Christians continues today in many parts of the world invites us to consider how we ourselves witness to our faith in Irish society. We are all called to be prophetic in shining the light and truth of the Gospel into the world, even when it brings ridicule, insult, criticism or leads to our being ostracised in public discourse.”
“In post-referendum Ireland, it remains as important as ever to affirm the sanctity of all human life, and to remind people that the direct and intentional taking of the life of any innocent human being is always gravely wrong. Sadly we must now do this in a context where we might be shouted down, told to “go away”, or even have our right to freedom of conscience and religion questioned because they do not “fit in” with the prevailing attitudes and opinions around us.”