Pakistani Muslims protest China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in this file image. Papal charity Aid to the Church in Need has reported a continuous decline in religious freedom in the world. (Photo: AFP)

June 27 2023

Religious freedom has continued to decline across the world with Asia remaining a region for particular concerns, says the report from papal charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The ACN’s latest religious freedom report found that 61 out of 196 countries surveyed completely or severely limit religious freedom.

The report, published biannually since 1999, is the only non-government document on global religious freedom that covers all faiths, reported Portuguese daily Hoje Macau on June 25.

During the publication of the report on June 22, Regina Lynch, executive president of ACN International, stated that it intends to provide information and analysis “about the abuse of this fundamental human right worldwide.”

The report pointed out that since January 2021, persecution has increased while “impunity continues to be the rule when it comes to attackers, including oppressive governments.”

Among the regions analyzed in the report, Asia was highlighted as the “home to nations that host some of the world’s worst religious freedom violations.”

China, India, Nepal, North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan are among the nations where religious persecution in one form or the other exists.

It found the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ‘sinicization’ of religion hampered the freedom of religion among almost all communities in the nation.

The government “requiring all religions to adhere to the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology, doctrine, and teachings – resumed its intense crackdown on religious communities,” the report said.

The Chinese authorities reportedly use leading-edge surveillance technologies, which include the approximately 540 million CCTV cameras countrywide with facial recognition capability to persecute minorities.

The report pointed out that the Muslim Uyghur population continues to suffer intense persecution, which includes the closure and the destruction of mosques.

India, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has also engaged in victimizing, and terrorizing religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims.

The socio-political situation of millions of these minorities is severely undermined by the practice of religious conversion and cow slaughter, which “invite severe repercussions.”

“The BJP also supports restrictions on religious freedom through the Freedom of Religion Acts (or anti-conversion laws),” the report said.

At present, 12 Indian states have enacted or are considering passing anti-conversion laws that curtail the freedom of religion and its propagation in the country.

Reportedly, India’s neighbor and Hindu-majority Nepal has copied the law and “adopted a constitution and a penal code that forbids proselytism and marginalizes non-Hindu communities and organizations” in the nation.

The report highlighted the rise of the Hindu nationalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), which seeks to re-establish Nepal as a Hindu state.

“The data from India, Nepal, and other countries in this region suggests that ethnoreligious nationalism continues to be a dangerous pattern in Mainland Asia,” the report said.

The report said North Korea has the world’s worst human rights records where faith groups also suffer “extreme persecution.”

North Korea’s discriminatory Songbun system categorizes citizens according to their loyalty to the state. Religious believers are automatically classed as “hostile” and “subjected to severe repression,” the report said.

Vietnam’s Hmong and Montagnard Christians continue to suffer systemic discrimination as well as persecution, while Christians in Laos “faced attacks by mobs and demands by the authorities to denounce their faith, with severe repercussions if met with refusal.”

Buddhist-majority nations Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were reported to have various levels of religious persecution in their territories.

Myanmar’s Military Junta has engaged in religious persecution fueled by an ethnoreligious nationalist ideology that resulted in the destruction of at least 132 churches and religious buildings since the start of the coup.

Meanwhile, the Buddhist nationalist movement in Sri Lanka has marked Muslims, Hindus, and Christians as existential threats to Buddhism. The groups have engaged in provoking extremist responses among Muslim and Hindu minority communities.

The southern border provinces of Thailand continue to face conflict driven by the Islamic separatist movement, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), with numerous failed truce attempts and ongoing negotiations for a cease-fire agreement.

Ethnic minorities and Christians in majority Islamic nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia continue to face oppression, threats, xenophobia, and blasphemy laws, the report said.

Pakistan continued the systemic persecution of Christian and Hindu communities, the report said.

The report also highlighted some regions in Asia and the Middle East that showed improvement.

The Iraqi government, for example, made important gestures toward its Christian and Yazidi citizens.

In December 2020, the Iraqi parliament unanimously recognized Christmas as a national public holiday; in 2021, it passed the Yazidi Survivor Law, acknowledged as an important step to overcoming the injustice inflicted upon minorities by Islamic State extremists.

In the United Arab Emirates, encouraging signs such as the opening of a Hindu temple or the establishment of the Dubai-based Association of Gulf Jewish Communities are of note, the report said. – UCA News