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“4 out of 5 five people live in countries with high or severe restrictions on religious freedom”

  • US State Department releases 2020 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom
  • Religious persecution on the rise globally, despite improvements in some countries

WASHINGTON DC (14 May 2021) – Most people live in environments with significant restrictions on freedom of religion. These are the findings presented by US Secretary of State Blinken, who released the Department of State’s 2020 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on 12 May. The report “describes the status of religious freedom in every country” outside of the United States. It identified some of the successes for religious freedom in the past year, such as repealed apostasy laws in Sudan and released prisoners of conscience in Uzbekistan. But it also highlighted the increasing persecution against religious groups in countries like China, Myanmar, Nigeria, Iran, and elsewhere.

“No one should be persecuted because of their faith. This report details the grave challenges that religious minorities, including Christians, continue to face worldwide. Across the world, we see both authoritarian regimes and militant groups severely restricting the practice of faith in private and public, as well as committing atrocities against religious minorities, including even genocide. We urge governments to take all necessary measures to ensure that religious freedom is fully protected for everyone,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom for ADF International.

Religious freedom remains under threat

According to the Department of State’s report, as well as recent reports by other governments, religious persecution is globally on the rise. Dan Nadel, Director of the Office of International Religious Freedom, stressed that “four out of every five people in the world [are] living in environments with high or very high restrictions on religious freedom.”

Some countries have shown improvements, however. Secretary Blinken noted Turkmenistan’s efforts to release sixteen Jehovah’s Witnesses who were conscientious objectors and refused to serve in the military.

Countries of particular concern

Still, other countries have continued or even increased their persecution of religious minorities. Secretary Blinken identified China as “broadly criminaliz[ing] religious expression and continu[ing] to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.” He stated that Saudi Arabia remains the only country without a Christian church, despite over a million Christians residing there.

In Myanmar, he stressed the recent military coup’s leaders are responsible for grave atrocities committed against religious and ethnic minorities, including Rohingya Muslims. Secretary Blinken also announced sanctions against Chinese official Yu Hui for his involvement in “gross violations of human rights” against Falun Gong practitioners.

Identifying the worst violators

The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires the State Department to prepare an annual report on international religious freedom conditions. The IRFA further mandates that within 180 days from the release of the report, the State Department must announce the countries that will be designated as countries of particular concern or placed on its Special Watch List.

“We look forward to the timely designations of the world’s worst violators later this year,” said Tony Perkins, Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. At the same time, the United States must accompany these designations with strong policies, in order to hold governments accountable for egregious religious freedom violations.

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