After New Zealand mosque attacks: what are religious persecution levels around the world?

IRPGF fighters, an anarchist communist collective fighting ISIS and considered a terrorist organization, in Tabqa during the Syrian civil war in 2017.  The group dissolved in 2018. Photo via  Creative Commons .

IRPGF fighters, an anarchist communist collective fighting ISIS and considered a terrorist organization, in Tabqa during the Syrian civil war in 2017. The group dissolved in 2018. Photo via Creative Commons.

(COMMENTARY) What is the current world situation with religious persecution?

The slaughter of 50 Muslims and wounding of dozens more at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, provoked horror in that pacific nation, and sorrow and disgust worldwide. Why would anyone violate the religious freedom, indeed the very lives, of innocent people who had simply gathered to worship God?

Unfortunately, murders at religious sanctuaries are not a rare occurrence. In the U.S., recall the murders of six Sikh worshipers at Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012); nine African Methodists at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C. (2015); 26 Southern Baptists in a Sunday morning church rampage at Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017);  and 11 Jews observing the Sabbath at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last October.

The Christchurch atrocity was unusual in that authorities identified a white nationalist as the assailant. Most mosque attacks are not carried out by a demented individual but by radical Muslim movements that intend to kill fellow Muslims for sectarian political purposes. The most shocking example occurred in 1979. A well-armed force of messianic extremists assaulted the faith’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, during the annual pilgrimage (Hajj). The reported death toll was 117 attackers and 127 pilgrims and security guards, with 451 others wounded.

After Christchurch, The Associated Press culled its archives to list 879 deaths in mass murders at mosques during the past decade. (Data are lacking on sectarian attacks upon individual Muslims, also a serious problem for the faith). Such incidents get scant coverage in U.S. news media.

2010: Extremist Sunnis in the Jundallah sect bomb to death six people and themselves at a mosque in southeastern Iran. Then a second Jundallah suicide bombing at an Iranian Shiite mosque kills 27 and injures 270.

2015: A Jundullah suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in Pakistan slays 71. Suicide bombers from Islamic State kill 137 at two mosques in Yemen. Another Yemen mosque suicide bombing kills 25 during prayers on the holy festival of Eid al-Adha.

2016: An Islamic State suicide bomber murders 50 at Pakistan’s shrine honoring the Sufi mystic Shah Noorani.

2017: A suicide bombing in Pakistan at the Sufi shrine commemorating Lal Shahbaz Qalandar kills 98. A suicide bomber murders four at a Shiite mosque in Afghanistan. At another Afghani Shiite mosque, a suicide bomber slays 90 and wounds hundreds during prayers. At a third Shiite mosque, a team of militants kills 28 worshipers and wounds 50. At a fourth, five are killed as they leave worship. In Egypt’s deadliest mosque attack in modern times, militants murder 311 Sinai worshipers.

2018: Suicide bombers disguised in burqa robes attack a Shiite mosque in Afghanistan, killing 27.

Muslim factions also oppress Jews, Baha’is, Yazidis and Ahmaddiyas. Buddhists oppress Muslims in Myanmar and Hindus in Sri Lanka. Hindus oppress Muslims in India. Jehovah’s Witnesses are oppressed in Orthodox Russia. Communists oppress everyone. Not long ago, Northern Ireland provided a rare modern crisis of Christian-on-Christian bloodshed. But far more typically, Christians are victimized by non-Christians, especially in lands with Muslim majorities or ruled by atheistic Communism, and  believers can be victimized with impunity.

The persecution of Christians is now “the highest in modern history,” according to Open Doors, an organization that smuggles Bibles, literature, food and other necessities to fellow believers in dire situations. In just the past few weeks, media reports said six Christians in the Republic of Congo were killed by radical Muslims from Uganda while 470 believers fled for their lives. And rampaging Fulani militants in Nigeria killed 140 Christians and destroyed 160 homes. In the longstanding Nigeria conflict, Christians have often resorted to violence themselves, typically as a defensive measure.

Open Doors provides broad perspective in its latest annual World Watch List, drawn from secret informants and publicly available reports. By its records, more than a tenth of Christians in the world suffer “high levels of persecution.” In the preceding  year it counted 4,136 believers killed – a rate of 11 martyrs per day – with 2,625 arrested without trial or imprisoned, and attacks upon 1,266 churches and buildings. The report says Christian women often suffer “double persecution” for gender combined with faith. The group cites increasing problems in Africa south of the Sahara, including ongoing enslavement of Christian women and girls.

Open Doors ranks persecution by nations, and Muslims predominate in 34 of the 50 judged the most troublesome. Here is some information it provides on the 10 worst violators:

— North Korea. President Trump may say he and Kim Jong-un “fell in love,” but the atheistic dictator’s realm is rated the most oppressive in the world for Christians (as for other citizens). Like his father and grandfather, Kim demands absolute reverence so “worshiping anything else is not tolerated.” Those among the estimated 300,000 Christians caught worshiping in secret are taken to prisons or labor camps, or even killed on the spot.

— Afghanistan. U.S. troops have long been involved in this officially Islamic state that forbids all open expressions of faith by its thousands of Christians. Conversion to Christianity is illegal, regarded as treason toward country, tribe, and family. Violators may have their homes destroyed or be confined in a psychiatric hospital. The radical Taliban control or exercise  influence in half the country.

— Somalia. Non-Muslims are heavily persecuted and the several hundred Christians are under constant threat of violence. Muslim law is enshrined in the constitution, and in rural areas radicals from al-Shabab and other violent sects are the de facto rulers. Conditions are so dangerous that Open Doors issues no specifics.

— Libya. With the chaos following the ouster of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, various militant Islamist groups exercise control in many areas and aim violence at the country’s 38,000 Christians. Converts to the Christian faith are subject to abuse, and migrant workers are regularly attacked and sexually assaulted, Christians among them.

— Pakistan. This sometime U.S. ally has a longstanding minority of 4 million Christians who are largely treated as second-class citizens. Radical Islamists appear to be gaining in political power. Notorious blasphemy laws that prescribe death for violators cause Christians to live in daily fear. An estimated 700 girls and women per year are abducted, raped, or forcefully married to Muslims.

— Sudan. Its authoritarian regime allows only limited tolerance toward non-Muslim minorities, including the 2 million Christians, and limits all other human rights. Multiple church buildings have been demolished in the past two years.

— Eritrea. Though the population is nearly half Christian, the regime raided many churches last year, conducted house-to-house raids, and sent hundreds of believers into the regime’s vast and brutal prison network. Open Doors is unable to learn the exact number who were imprisoned or how many are still alive.

— Yemen.  In addition to living through civil war and the resulting major humanitarian crisis afflicting all Yemenis, the tiny Christian population is further burdened by an increase of religious persecution. In some sectors even carefully private worship gatherings are risky.

— Iran.  The nation is strictly governed by Islamic law and forbids Christians to worship in the national language to prevent sharing of their faith. Those who attend underground churches face constant threats of arrest. The 800,000 Christians’ rights and job opportunities are heavily restricted. In just one week last December, 100 Christians were arrested.

— India. Significantly, this is the first year the Hindu nation ranks in Open Doors’ worst 10. Since 2014, the 65 million Christians have suffered an unprecedented number of attacks from Hindu nationalists, often without police interference. In some situations, Christian citizens are denied public water supplies and food subsidies. Hindu converts to Christianity can suffer extreme discrimination and violence.

The next 10 worst nations, in order, are Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Maldives, Saudi Arabia (which outlaws all churches), Egypt, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.

Other sources of data on the situations of all faiths include the U.S. Department of State’s Commission on International Religious Freedom, Freedom House, Gordon-Conwell seminary’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity, and Britain’s Keston Institute, which specializes in Communist and formerly Communist countries. Information on global slavery and sexual trafficking, which afflict  all religious and ethnic groups, is available from International Justice Mission.

This article was published at Get Religion.