Religious Freedom in the World Report 2016 things are getting worse around the world, especially for Christians

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED (ACN), an international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation, has released its bi-annual Religious Freedom report covering the period 2014-2016, which concludes that religious freedom has declined in many parts of the world—with Christianity the most persecuted faith around the world: more than 330 million Christians live in countries where they are persecuted and another 60 million Christians suffer various forms of discrimination.

Religious Freedom Report 2016 Pope Francis

Bishop Gregory Mansour, who heads the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, NY, and serves on the Advisory Board of ACNUSA, expressed hope that the Report will “help the Trump Administration in developing a strategy to step up US support for persecuted religious minorities around the world—in particular the Christians in Iraq and Syria.”

ACN researchers and analysts have found that religious liberty has declined in 11 of the 23 already worst-offending countries. In seven other countries in this category, the problems were already so bad they could hardly get any worse. Findings also show that, of the 38 countries with significant religious freedom violations, 55 percent remained stable regarding religious freedom, while only in 8 percent— namely Bhutan, Egypt and Qatar—the situation improved.

The report contradicts the assumption that governments are mostly to blame for persecution; non-state actors (that is, fundamentalist or militant organizations) are responsible for persecution of religious minorities in 12 of the 23 worst-offending countries.

The period under review has seen the emergence of a new phenomenon of religiously motivated violence which can be described as Islamist hyper-extremism, a process of heightened radicalization, unprecedented in its violent expression, with the Islamic State (ISIS) the prime example. Its characteristics are:

  • Extremist creed and a radical system of law and government;
  • Systematic attempts to annihilate or drive out all groups who do not conform to its outlook, including co-religionists, moderates and those of different traditions;
  • Cruel treatment of victims;
  • Use of the latest social media, notably to recruit followers and to intimidate opponents by showing acts of extreme violence—with the beheading of 20 Copts by ISIS in February 2015 the most gruesome example;
  • Global impact—enabled by affiliate extremist groups (Boko Haram pledging loyalty to ISIS is one example) and well-resourced support networks.

This new phenomenon has had a toxic impact on religious liberty around the world: Since mid-2014, violent Islamist attacks have taken place in one in five countries—from Sweden to Australia and including 17 African nations; in parts of the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, this hyper-extremism is eliminating all forms of religious diversity and is threatening to do so in parts of Africa and South Asia. The intention is to replace pluralism with a religious mono-culture.

Islamist extremism and hyper-extremism, observed in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, have been a key driver in the sudden explosion of refugees which, according to UN figures for the year 2015, went up by 5.8 million to a new high of 65.3 million refugees worldwide.

In the West, this hyper-extremism is at risk of destabilizing the socio-religious fabric, with countries sporadically targeted by fanatics and under pressure to receive unprecedented numbers of refugees, the majority of them Muslims. Manifest ripple effects include the rise of right-wing and populist groups; restrictions on free movement, discrimination and violence against minority faiths and a decline of social cohesion. During the period under review, there has also been an upsurge of anti-Semitic attacks, notably in parts of Europe.

In the worst-offending countries, including North Korea and Eritrea, the ongoing penalty for religious expression is the complete denial of rights and liberties—such as long-term incarceration without a fair trial, rape and murder. There has been a renewed crackdown on religious groups that refuse to follow the party line under authoritarian regimes such as China and Turkmenistan. For example, in China more than 2,000 churches have had their crosses demolished in Zheijang and nearby provinces.

By defining a new phenomenon of Islamist hyper- extremism, the report supports widespread claims that, in targeting Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans and other minorities, ISIS and other jihadist group are in breach of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

To read the full report, please visit; click here to read an Executive Summary. To request a printed copy of the Executive Summary, please write

Joop Koopman
Director of Communications
Aid to the Church in Need-US
917 608 1989

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