An award-winning missionary magazine

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Deteriorating around the world

Religious freedom remains under "serious and sustained assault" around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. "At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve," Commission Chairman Robert P. George said last May. "At worst, they have spiraled further downward."

The independent government advisory body recommended that the State Department add the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam to the U.S. government's list of the world's worst abusers of human rights and religious freedom. Of the 17 countries USCIRF says are of "particular concern," only 10 have been recognized by the State Department. The official list remained unchanged for nearly a decade, until last month's rare addition of Tajikistan, a Sunni-majority country where a severely restrictive 2009 law allows the government to crack down on all independent religious activity, particularly that of Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses. Officials there use concerns of extremism to justify monitoring and suppressing acts of worship: in the past year, police there have forced thousands of women to remove their headscarves and detained hundreds of thousands of bearded men.

"The incarceration of prisoners of conscience, including religious prisoners, remains astonishingly widespread," George said. He pointed to China, which has imprisoned some opposed to a state campaign to remove crosses from churches, and Iran's majority-Shiite regime, where Sunnis, Christians and Baha'is have been persecuted, imprisoned and even sentenced to death on dubious unrelated charges. And in Pakistan – which USCIRF recommended for recognition as a country of particular concern but, for the 14th year in a row, has not been listed officially – more people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy charges than in any other nation in the world.

As much attention as was given to the refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria, for which the USCIRF largely recycled its recommendations this year, it's only the tip of the iceberg. "I don't think we can account for everything we've seen simply by reference to the refugee crisis in the Middle East," George said, noting oppressive conditions for minorities in East Asia, where a Vietnamese religious freedom activist was imprisoned the day after meeting with a USCIRF ambassador.

Other areas of focus included rising anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim bigotry throughout Europe, the continuation of a "brutal legacy of persecution against Burma's Rohingya Muslims" and the "negative trajectory" for Christians, Muslims and Sikhs living in India.


Read These Next


ASIA: Illegal wildlife trafficking

A major investigation into global wildlife crime names, for the first time, key traffickers and links their illegal trade to corrupt officials at the highest levels of one Asian country.

BANGLADESH: Visit of Pope Francis in 2017

The Pope announced that it is “almost certain” that in 2017 he will visit India and Bangladesh. Christians are preparing to welcome him with enthusiasm. The police will increase controls to prevent…

First African Superior General

The Comboni Missionaries gathered in Rome for their General Chapter last September. At the end of the almost one month meeting, they elected a new General Superior of the Congregation – Fr. Tesfaye…

Share Your Thoughts


Loading Conversation

Sign up for the newsletter

Getting your own copy of "Friends of the Mission" is free. Sign up with your complete address to get one delivered right to your doorstep.

Kindly double check that the information you entered is correct and accurate. Thank you!