If you do not know what religious persecution is, it is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or a group of individuals as a response to their religious beliefs, affiliations or their lack thereof. It is often defined as violence or discrimination against religious minorities, actions which are intended to deprive minorities of political rights and force them to assimilate, leave, or live as second-class citizens. It could be in a form of cleansing or religious cleansing, which refers to the removal of a population from a certain territory based on its religion. Religious bigotry or the state itself may be the triggers for religious persecution. Confiscation or destruction of property, incitement of hatred, arrests, imprisonment, beatings, torture, murder, and executions are examples of religious persecutions.
Religious persecution has been happening even decades ago. In the recent years, there have been many governments taking action about religious persecution and have not allowed it in their countries. However, not for some. Religious persecutions in many countries have resulted in so much violence that it is considered a human rights problem. There are still governments that allow religious persecution today. Here are the top 10 governments that allow religious persecution today.
- North Korea
Even though a small country, it always wins the world’s attention. The North Korean government associates Christianity with the despised West, in particular, the United States. North Korea sees Christians as the greatest religious threat. The government views the Christians as susceptible to foreign influence. North Korea has been one of the worst Christian persecutors. Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment, including arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution. The possession and distribution of religious texts remains a criminal offense under North Korean law.
Prayer, church meetings and owning a Bible are all against the law. Violators are being sent to prison camps, or even facing the death penalty. Christians are believed to make up a sizeable proportion of the North’s large labor camp population. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also is one of the most repressive nations on earth. Having elevated its rulers to near godly status, the regime is especially brutal to religious believers who view politics as secondary and politicians as subject to divine judgment. Unfortunately, the regime’s isolation, China and Russia are its northern neighbors, makes it difficult for the outside world to discover reality within the DPRK.
Prison authorities often single out prisoners for more severe treatment if they are suspected of being Christian or having contact severe treatment if they are suspected of being Christian or having contact with Christians. Their immediate and extended family members are often incarcerated as well, whether or not they are similarly religious.
No one is safe from persecution. The government monitors members of the historical churches and imposes legal restrictions on constructing and renovating houses of worship. Christians have been sentenced to prison. The reason? Holding private Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and even traveling abroad to attend Christian seminars. Evangelical Christian communities face repression. Pastors of house churches are often charged with apostasy and national security-related crimes.
Iranian Christians face intense persecution in their own country because converting from Islam is illegal. There was a report that nine Iranian Christians were sentenced to five years in prison each for “acting against national security”, a charge the state of which they often use to prosecute Christians for their house church activities. 29 Christians were detained in 2018. Many more detentions remain undocumented. The country has also reportedly shut down houses of worship and targeted churches that worship in Persian and could attract Muslim-born Iranians.
Christians, especially those who converted from Islam, were also persecuted and imprisoned for practicing their faith. Among those imprisoned have been dual American‐Iranian citizens. Jews and Sufis routinely suffer. The Islamic Republic’s brutal religious laws even victimize secular Iranians.
The Chinese government persecute all faiths in an effort to “sinicize” religious belief in attempt to diminish and erase the independent practice of religion. According to religious-freedom advocates, more than 5,000 Christians and 1,000 church leaders were arrested in 2018 because of their faith or religious practices of which most of these arrests, though, resulted in short-term detentions and did not lead to criminal charges. Thousands of churches or religious sites have been closed down or demolished.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has rapidly advanced its persecution against China’s underground house movement, unregistered churches and even registered churches. China has shuttered four large churches and has banned anyone under 18 from church. They also torn down crosses from churches, raided churches and arrested Christians, and forced churches to install facial recognition cameras. China President Xi Jinping has made deliberate moves to establish himself as a cult personality among the Chinese people. Although Xi talks of China’s greatness, he is scared of people who believe that all rulers, including him, are accountable to someone and something greater.
Over 1 million Uighurs have been interned in 85 different rapidly built reeducation camps since 2017. Initially the Chinese government denied the existence of these camps but since their discovery by international sources, the government has acknowledged their existence, but downplayed their purpose.
Bombings, attacks and threats toward Christians by radical Islam are prevalent in Pakistan. Islamic oppression is one of the most widely recognized sources of persecution in the world today. It continues to spread, aiming to bring Sharia Law to the world. Sharia Law often results in Islamic militancy and persecution of Christians. It is expanding in Asia which includes Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and in Africa which includes Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia.
Pakistan’s best-known case of blasphemy is that of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman whom the Supreme Court acquitted of blasphemy charges in October 2018 after a lower court sentenced her to death in 2010. The Supreme Court’s landmark decision criticized the lower court judges and prosecutors for pursuing falsely accused blasphemy cases that did not meet the requirements of Pakistan’s evidentiary rules. Facing charges of blasphemy, non-Muslims sit on death row.
In Hindu, Christian, and Sikh communities, young women, often underage, continued to be kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam. Several independent institutions estimated that 1,000 women are forcibly converted to Islam each year; many are kidnapped, forcibly married, and subjected to rape. Local police, particularly in Punjab and Sindh, are often accused of complicity in these cases.
The Eritrean government responds harshly to both registered religious groups as well as unrecognized ones, such as the Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian communities including accused religious actors of political interference for defending their beliefs and human rights. Christians were arbitrarily arrested and detained, some were presented with warrants. Sunni Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran churches are the only religions allowed. Other than the four religions, they are persecuted and those of recognized faiths are routinely harassed by the government.
In Eritrea, the small East African nation that borders the Red Sea, more than 150 Christians were arrested this year. Christian detainees often are held in harsh conditions, without ever being formally charged with crimes. Eritrean gospel singer and torture survivor Helen Berhane met with President Trump in to highlight the plight of Christians in Eritrea.
Individuals, including children, are regularly arrested and detained for their religious beliefs and practices and not afforded due process under the law. Arrest of evangelicals and Pentecostals for participating in prayer meetings and religious ceremonies still continue. Detained Christians for at least four years were and were forced to sign promises that they would no longer have any connection with their churches, even attend a church meeting. Many evangelicals and Pentecostals have been detained for more than 13 years.
Religious repression is not as bad as in times past but remains burdensome. The government enforces, and abuses, an onerous religious registration law, while harassing unregistered churches and organizations. Ethnic minority communities faced persecution for the peaceful practice of their religious beliefs. These charges include physical assault, detention, or banishment. An estimated 10,000 Hmong and Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands remain effectively stateless because local authorities have refused to issue identity cards, in many instances in retaliation against Christians who refuse to renounce their faith.
In addition, “the Vietnamese government continued to arrest and imprison peaceful religious leaders and religious freedom advocates.” It is not just the national capital which threatens religious liberty, however. Local authorities continued to expropriate or destroy property belonging to religious communities. For example, authorities in Kontum Province demolished Son Linh Tu Pagoda, which had been affiliated with the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.
In 2019, the Burmese government continued to commit widespread and egregious religious freedom violations, particularly against Rohingya Muslims. Ethnic‐driven conflict and degradation of other civil rights often coincide with religious differences, thereby severely restricting freedom of religion or belief.
In the last several years, it has become more highly reported that the Buddhist majority government of Myanmar (formerly Burma) has engaged in systematic displacement and elimination of the indigenous minority grouping, known as the Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim and live in the Rakhine State. For decades, this government has attempted to delegitimize the Rohingya through repressive legislation and policy and to challenge their identity as the indigenous people of Burma, and ultimately to justify the large-scale relocation of nearly one million Rohingya since 2015. Many have been murdered, their homes destroyed, with widespread reports of punitive rape and other atrocities. The government of Myanmar, led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been complicit in the genocide of the Rohingya, perpetrated by a military junta out of control, bolstered and justified by nationalist and extremist attitudes expressed by hardline Buddhist monks, such as Ashin Wirathu. 6 Aung San Suu Kyi has been extensively criticized for her inaction, but has expressed that there is nothing she can do in the face of military opposition.
Reports have come that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture issued orders restricting the instruction of Islam and Christianity to government-approved houses of worship and limiting such instruction to the Burmese language, which by the way, is not the first language of many religious and ethnic minorities. Many churches which counted more than 30, were destroyed in Kachin State, most by heavy weapons attacks. By some estimates, there are over a hundred churches in Kachin State at which parishioners can no longer worship.
It long has belied its democratic status with non‐state violence and state‐level discrimination against religious minorities, usually Muslims or Christians. Unfortunately, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi the persecution has gone national. Last year, in a desperate attempt to win votes, the opposition Congress Party also catered to Hindu nationalist sentiments. And the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to the brutality even against Christians, whose electoral support he desires in the U.S. Perhaps because the bulk of India’s victims are Muslim, the CPC designation garnered a political dissent normally more characteristic of the State Department from some commissioners.
In 2019, for the International Day of Prayer, there was a special prayer focus on India for there have been reports that there were three American pastors were detained by Indian customs agents after they told officials that they were Christians. The government continues to restrict the involvement of Christian NGOs and charities, strengthening anti-conversion laws, and local believers have continued to endure attacks from Hindu extremists. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reports that mobs go after non-Hindus based on false accusations of conversion or cow slaughtering, and local governments often fail to prosecute the attackers.
- Saudi Arabia
The Trump administration has essentially subcontracted Mideast policy to Riyadh, turning the U.S. military into bodyguards for the Saudi royals. That is bad policy. It is direct insult to the Americans, given the regime’s brutal political and religious repression. Riyadh continued to engage in other systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. The government prohibits public practice of any religion other than Islam, and no houses of worship other than mosques are allowed in the kingdom. Christians or non‐Muslims who gather in private houses are subject to surveillance and Saudi security services may break up their private worship services.
It is not just Christians who suffer, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continue to face discrimination in education, employment, and the judiciary, and lack access to senior government and military positions. The building of Shia mosques is restricted outside majority‐Shia Muslim areas in the Eastern Province, and Saudi authorities often prohibit use of the Shia Muslim call to prayer in these areas. Authorities arrest and imprison Shia Muslims for holding religious gatherings in private homes without permits and reading religious materials in husseiniyas (prayer halls).
Despite its professed commitment to battle religious extremism, the country continues to promote Wahhabism around the globe. This fundamentalist variant of Sunni Islam demonizes the other, tacitly justifying violence against Christians, Jews, Shia, and members of other religions. Shamefully, the State Department routinely waives sanctions on a regime that is murderous and totalitarian.
Saudi Arabia has claims of religious liberty reform, and recent meetings between U.S. evangelical leaders and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But still, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most difficult countries in the world for Christians, ranking 15th on Open Doors’ World Watch List. The country bans the public practice of non-Muslim religions, and there are no churches for the country’s 1.4 million Christians. Charges of apostasy are still punishable by death, and Christian symbols or meetings of any kind are illegal. In November 2018, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo re-designated Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern for its violations of religious freedom.
Despite the political defeat of ISIS in Iraq, Christians still suffer persecution and the lingering effects of their culture and population being systematically destroyed by the Islamic extremists. The Assyrian Church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church remain seriously affected by persecution in Iraq, most especially from Islamic extremist and government authorities. In central Iraq, Christians often do not publicly display Christian symbols, such as a cross, as this can lead to harassment or discrimination. This also happens in southern Iraq.
Iraq has had presence of Christianity. However, the brutal and targeted attacks from ISIS have driven many Christians to flee the country or these areas. Ten years ago, there were nearly 1 million Christians living in Iraq, with a large majority of the population living in Mosul. Today, ISIS has been driven out of Iraq and Syria for the most part, but now they are spreading to Southeast Asia and West Africa. The terrorist group claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday 2019 bombings, including three churches, in Sri Lanka. Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi is the current leader of ISIS in western Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.