June 26, 2019 (Alliance Defending Freedom) — Recently, on 21 June, US Secretary of State Pompeo released the 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. The report highlighted some of the successes for religious freedom of the past year, such as the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey, and of Asia Bibi from Pakistan. But it also pointed to the increasing persecution of believers in countries like China, Iran, Eritrea, and elsewhere.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. This most recent report reveals that while there have been a handful of successes for religious freedom over the past year, the challenges continue to mount worldwide. We encourage all governments and international organizations to continue setting high standards when it comes to protecting and promoting international religious freedom,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.
Religious persecution is a significant global threat
According to the US report, as well as recent reports by other governments, religious persecution is globally on the rise. Nearly 80% of the world's population lives in areas where the right to religious freedom is highly restricted.
Some countries have shown improvements. Secretary Pompeo noted that Uzbekistan, for the first time in 13 years, was no longer designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” — a term which refers to countries that have committed “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Some countries of particular concern
Other countries have continued or even increased their persecution of religious minorities, and especially of Christians. Despite Asia Bibi's acquittal and ultimate release after having been found guilty of blasphemy, Pakistan was moved from a special watch list to being designated a Country of Particular Concern. Over 40 individuals still face the death penalty or life imprisonment for blasphemy in Pakistan.
Secretary Pompeo described China's “intense persecution” of Christians, Uighur Muslims, Falun Gong, and Tibetan Buddhists as “the norm.” Iran's “crackdown on the Baha'is, Christians, and others continues to shock the conscience.
“Everyone has a stake in the fight”
“We will not stop until we see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down,” said Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. At the same time, the United States could not secure religious freedom alone, he continued: “we need everyone's help; everyone has a stake in the fight.”
The release of the 2018 Annual Report comes less than a month before the State Department will host the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
Published with permission from the Alliance Defending Freedom.